Al-Hilal defeat Al-Nassr to lift King’s Cup after penalty shootout leaves Ronaldo in tears

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Updated 01 June 2024

Al-Hilal defeat Al-Nassr to lift King’s Cup after penalty shootout leaves Ronaldo in tears

  • Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou is the hero, saving two spot-kicks after three players were sent off and the game ended in a 1-1 draw

Cristiano Ronaldo’s season ended in tears on Friday as Al-Hilal completed the league and cup double by defeating Al-Nassr 5-4 in a penalty shootout, after two hours of play in a tempestuous King’s Cup final at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah had ended 1-1.

Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was the hero, saving two spot-kicks at the conclusion of a fierce battle between the Riyadh rivals that had a little of everything. There was an early goal from Aleksandar Mitrovic that seemed to put the league champions on course for their 11th triumph in Saudi Arabia’s premier cup competition. Then there was a late, late equalizer from Ayman Yahya that took the game into extra time — but not before three players had been sent off by Argentine referee Dario Herrera.

Al-Nassr goalkeeper David Ospina was the first to go, early in the second half. At that point, it seemed certain that Al-Hilal’s name was destined to be on the cup but then, late in the game, both of their central defenders, Ali Al-Bulaihi and then Kalidou Koulibaly, were red-carded.

Ronaldo and his teammates, who earlier in the week finished the league season in second place behind Al-Hilal, looked dangerous from the start.


Sadio Mane had the best opportunity of the early exchanges, firing just over from close range in the sixth minute. Seconds later, however, Mitrovic illustrated the difference between the teams this season as he made the Yellows pay for missed opportunities with the kind of ruthless efficiency that has been a trademark of this Al-Hilal side; if you do not take your opportunities against them, you will be punished. The Serbian striker was waiting at the far post to head the ball low into the net after Malcom curled a fine cross over from the right.

Just three minutes later, Al-Nassr had a great chance to equalize but Otavio fired just wide from inside the area. Shortly after the half-hour mark, Yahya had a shot cleared off the line by Al-Bulaihi, and then a low effort by Ronaldo was blocked by the legs of Bounou.


The Moroccan goalkeeper was in action again soon after, pushing another shot from the 39-year-old Portuguese superstar away and then saving Otavio’s follow-up header from the rebound. This summed up a frustrating first half for Al-Nassr in which they made most of the running.


View our photos from the drama-filled 2024 King’s Cup final in Jeddah

At the start of the second half, Ronaldo almost scored what might have been the goal of the season but his spectacular, near-perfect overhead kick, which left Bounou no chance, bounced off the post.

Things began to go wrong for Al-Nassr eight minutes after the restart when Malcom burst through on goal. Ospina came out of his area and handled the ball, earning him a red card.

Al-Nassr continued to give it their all, though, in an attempt to get back into the game, and Ronaldo forced another good save from Bounou with a well-struck free-kick. But the five-time Ballon d’Or winner appeared an increasingly frustrated figure.

Still, Al-Hilal were not quite able to put the game to bed and there were some nerves on display when a Mitrovic effort rolled just past the post when he had only substitute goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah to beat.

Then, three minutes from the end of the regulation 90 minutes, Al-Nassr were thrown a lifeline when Al-Bulaihi was sent off for seemingly headbutting Sami Al-Najei.

Yahya immediately took advantage by heading home from close range, sparking wild celebrations among the hordes of yellow-shirted fans and taking the game into extra time, but not before Al-Hilal went down to nine men when Koulibaly received a second yellow.

There was plenty of space on the pitch during the first period of extra time, given the reduced number of players, and both teams pushed forward in search of a winner. However, the longer they went without one of them managing to grab that all-important goal, the more inevitable it seemed the result would be decided by penalties. And so it proved to be.

Ruben Neves missed the first kick of the shoot-out but then so did Alex Telles. Bounou then saved from Ali Al-Hassan and Meshari Al-Nemer to secure another trophy for Al-Hilal and leave Ronaldo sprawled on the turf in despair.

French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics

Updated 21 sec ago

French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics

A 40-year-old Russia-born man was arrested on Tuesday at his Paris apartment
He was charged with “conducting intelligence work on behest of a foreign power” with an aim to “provoke hostilities in France”

PARIS: French authorities say they have detained a Russian man on suspicion of planning to “destabilize the Olympic Games.”
A 40-year-old Russia-born man was arrested on Tuesday at his Paris apartment, a statement from the Paris prosecutor’s office said Wednesday.
He was charged with “conducting intelligence work on behest of a foreign power” with an aim to “provoke hostilities in France,” crimes punishable with 30-year sentence in France, the statement said.
During an official search of the suspect’s home in Paris, police agents found items that “raised fears of his intention to organize events likely to lead to destabilization of the Olympic Games,” prosecutors said.
It comes after the interior minister said earlier Wednesday that security authorities made an arrest and foiled a separate plot to attack the Olympics.
Minister Gérald Darmanin said the security authorities thwarted a plot against the Paris Olympics, two days before the official start of the Summer Games.
France has been on high alert over the past few weeks as preparations to host the 2024 Olympics hit the final stretch. The Games officially kick off with a lavish and high-security opening ceremony on the River Seine on Friday.
The Games’ organizers face security challenges, including cyberattack concerns, amid high international tensions because of the Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
There are also elaborate disinformation campaigns orchestrated out of Russia, targeting the Olympics and France’s recent elections, according to French officials and cybersecurity experts in Europe and the United States.
Darmanin said in an interview Wednesday with French broadcaster BFMTV that a young man was arrested in Gironde, a region in the southwest of France, on suspicion of “planning a violent action against the Olympic Games.”
Police arrested an 18-year-old man Tuesday on accusations that he was planning to target the “organization of the Games,” Darmanin said.
He did not give details on the suspect’s potential targets or whether they were in Paris or in other French cities hosting Olympic events that run through Aug. 11.
“We are still working on this case ... (we) avoid giving details ... but we think there is a link,” Darmanin said. “It’s been established that this person wanted to attack the Olympic Games.”
Paris has deployed 35,000 police officers each day for the Olympics, with a peak of 45,000 for the opening ceremony. In addition, 10,000 soldiers are taking part in security operations in the Paris region.
A 10,000-strong military force is patrolling streets and sites in the Paris region and carrying out other security missions.
France also is getting help from more than 40 countries that together have sent at least 1,900 police reinforcements.

Palestinians are winners by just being at Paris Games, say athletes

Yazan Al Bawwab of Palestine, with a Palestine flag before training. REUTERS
Updated 24 July 2024

Palestinians are winners by just being at Paris Games, say athletes

PARIS: The presence of Palestinian athletes at the Paris Olympic Games is already a major victory for the team amid the conflict in the Middle East, they said on Saturday, less than a week before the start of the Olympics.
The Palestinian team for the Games starting on Friday consists of six athletes who will be competing in boxing, judo, taekwondo, shooting and swimming, with slim hopes of a medal.”Whether a medal or not, we already win,” swimmer Yazan Al Bawwab told Reuters.
“The fact that we’re here. The fact that people don’t want us to be here, they don’t want us to play sports. They don’t want us to exist.”
“People don’t want Palestinians to exist. They look at the flag and they don’t want it. So to be here is a win,” said Al Bawwab, who will be the team’s flag bearer during the opening ceremony.
About 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 were seized and taken as hostages to Gaza in an attack on southern Israel led by the Palestinian militant group Hamas last Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli military offensive launched in response in Hamas-governed Gaza has killed almost 39,000 Palestinians, health officials in the Palestinian enclave say. Israel says 326 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza.
In the run-up to the Paris Olympics, Palestinian athletes had been given support by Arab states, including Kuwait, Qatar, Libya and Egypt, to allow training in those countries.
Palestinian sports officials have said that since the start of the conflict in October 2023 more than 300 athletes, referees and sports officials have been killed and all sports facilities in Gaza demolished.
“I said it before but I’m one of the luckiest people in the world,” swimmer Valerie Tarazi said. “I have the opportunity to compete for my country, to raise the flag for my country.”
“My heart is with them. Every time I swim, every time I jump in the pool, I’m thinking about the people of Palestine, their struggles. And I just want to represent them in the best way possible.”

‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on

Updated 24 July 2024

‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on

  • Referee Rami Mustafa Abu Hashish told AFP that football helped “restore a semblance of life” to Jabalia
  • In the courtyard of a school-turned-shelter, the two sides vied for a trophy one player said was salvaged from the rubble

JABALIA, Palestinian Territories: On an improvised pitch in war-ravaged Gaza, a young player and goalkeeper block out the boisterous crowd and focus solely on the football as they square off.
The referee blows the whistle and the penalty-taker fires the ball into the makeshift goal, sparking wild celebrations as spectators swarm him.
For fans and players, Tuesday’s match in the Jabalia refugee camp was a welcome distraction from the pangs of hunger and exhaustion endured over nearly 300 days of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
Referee Rami Mustafa Abu Hashish told AFP that football helped “restore a semblance of life” to Jabalia, devastated by Israeli bombardments and fighting which have laid waste to schools, stadiums and homes, and uprooted families many times over.
In the courtyard of a school-turned-shelter, the two sides vied for a trophy one player said was salvaged from the rubble.
The game created a festive atmosphere, with spectators pulling out chairs and leaning over the railings of the three-story compound to cheer.
A group of boys packed onto an empty lorry bed for a better view.
“We will play despite hunger and thirst, we will compete because we love life,” read one child’s sign in both English and Arabic.
Jabalia was hit particularly hard in an Israeli offensive launched in May, part of a fierce campaign sweeping northern Gaza — an area the military had previously said was out of the control of Hamas militants.
As fighting rages, humanitarian agencies struggle to deliver aid and warn of a looming famine.
Residents have told AFP there is barely any food left in the north, and what little reaches them comes at an astronomical cost.
For the footballers, the match offered a rare escape from concerns about food and water shortages.
They have been unable to play since the October 7 outbreak of the war triggered by Hamas’s attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 44 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,145 Palestinians, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
“Since the war on the Gaza Strip, we’ve stayed away from sports because all the clubs were destroyed, all the playgrounds were destroyed, but today, we made something out of nothing,” said Saif Abu Saif, one of the players.
The Gaza education ministry says 85 percent of educational facilities in the territory are out of service because of the war.
Many have been turned into shelters for war displaced as most of the besieged strip’s 2.4 million people have been uprooted multiple times.
Coach Wael Abu Saif said he was determined to attend Tuesday’s match despite still experiencing pain from wounds sustained in a February attack. Now in a wheelchair, he said he lost the use of both his legs.
“I’ve loved football since I was a child, I love tournaments, I love playing,” he told AFP.
“I want to prove to the whole world... that we continue to move forward with the most basic of our rights, which is to play football.”

Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur

Updated 24 July 2024

Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur

  • Indeed the 28-year-old arrives at the Games as champion of Austria, the country where she sought asylum in 2022
  • “There’s an artistic swimming camp in Spain, and because of the security reason, I couldn’t go back anymore to Iran,” she told AFP

PARIS: Refugee Olympic team canoeist Saman Soltani told AFP that being unable to return to Iran two years ago could have either “broken you down” — or become, as it was for her, “an opportunity to improve.”
Indeed the 28-year-old arrives at the Games as champion of Austria, the country where she sought asylum in 2022 when she realized returning to her family in Iran was out of the question following an artistic swimming training camp in Spain.
She was provided safe haven there after a desperate call for help to Uwe Schlokat, whom she had met when he visited Iran five years previously. He was the only person she knew in Europe.
“There’s an artistic swimming camp in Spain, and because of the security reason, I couldn’t go back anymore to Iran,” she told AFP.
“So I only knew one person in Europe, and he was living in Austria. He is like my second father, and he helped me a lot.
“I go to Austria, and I asked for asylum. I integrated into this culture. And I have good friends and good people around me.”
Soltani is remarkably self-assured given she has not seen her family for a couple of years and is unlikely to see them in the forseeable future.
“Everything that happens to you has two sides, and it depends on you how do you look at the things,” said Soltani.
“So, you can see them as an opportunity to improve, or you can see them as something that breaks you down.
“Everything is about how you think about the things. Of course, it’s hard at first because we are all human with emotions, but I think the biggest achievement in my life is I always try to find a solution and keep going, and that’s why I’m here.”
She says that along with her fellow Refugee Team members — there are 36 in all — they are not just competing for personal glory but for a far greater cause.
“We represent more than 100 million displaced people, which I wanted to be a role model for them, to tell them, like, when the things look really bad, you just have to keep going,” she said.
“You should not get disappointed, and you should never give up.”
Soltani, who competes in the 500-meter Sprint on August 7, had already shown her prowess for Iran in both artistic swimming and then kayaking, winning silver in the latter at the 2018 Asian Under-23 championships.
Soltani — who has a degree in accountancy — showed her stubborn side when she was told she would never make it in kayaking.
“I was just watching the Iranian national canoe/kayak team that day and I just love it.
“I decided to start and everyone told me it’s too late, you cannot.
“Because everyone who do like professional sport, they started at a really early age.
“But what they didn’t think about was that I was a swimmer, an artistic swimmer. And I was multiple champion.
“So I started kayaking and this is another thing that maybe it looks impossible for other people but doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you — so give yourself a chance in any situation.”
Yet she says her ambitions lie on a far higher plane — Olympic gold in Los Angeles in 2028, whether for Austria she does not know as despite being their national champion she has yet to be given Austrian nationality.
“I know I’m special, and I knew it from when I was a child, because I always liked to do big things,” she said.
“And so I knew it, and I’m excited to see what I will do in the future. Because I know I want to be world famous.”

Egypt sends biggest team ever to Paris Olympics

Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy. credit: Egyptian Olympic Committee
Updated 24 July 2024

Egypt sends biggest team ever to Paris Olympics

  • A total of 148 athletes will compete across 22 sports

Riyadh: Egypt is set to field its largest ever team at the Paris Olympics, which get underway on Friday.

Speaking at a press event on Tuesday, Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy said Egypt had spared no effort in providing its athletes with the resources they needed to qualify for the Games and as a result it had the biggest team of any Arab or African nation.

A total of 148 athletes will compete across 22 sports. The team also features 16 reserves.

Sobhy said he was hoping for a record medals haul “to crown the efforts of the country in providing full support to our sports champions.”