No Neymar, but Al-Hilal stroll to summit of Roshn Saudi League – Arab News

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RIYADH: Neymar may have headed home to Brazil after the birth of his daughter, but the megastar was barely missed as Al-Hilal went top of the Roshn Saudi League with a 3-0 win at Al-Okhdood on Saturday and will stay at the summit over the international break.
After nine games of the season, Jorge Jesus’s men are still unbeaten with 23 points, one above the impressive Al-Taawoun in second. Then there are three teams on 19: Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli, who won the Jeddah derby on Friday.
Seeing champions Al-Ittihad lose must have galvanized Al-Hilal, who returned from Iran on Wednesday morning after an impressive win against Nassaji Mazandaran, during which Neymar scored his first goal for the club.
Even without the former Barcelona man, the opening goal had a strong Brazilian flavor. Malcom slipped the ball through a crowded area to find Michael on the right side and he shot across the goalkeeper to find the opposite corner. It was a finish that Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud of, and the celebration was very reminiscent of the Al-Nassr forward, the league’s leading goalscorer.
After a slow start to the season, Al-Okhdood had won two of the previous four in the league and had chances, but were always going to find it difficult against the 18-time champions. It got worse just before the break as the hosts were reduced to 10 men. At the start of added time, Saeed Al-Rubaie picked up a yellow card. By the time the first half ended, he had managed to collect a second for a rash and unnecessary challenge on Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and was off.
The second half was looking like a comfortable one for the Blues and it started perfectly. Ruben Neves sent over a cross from the right for Aleksandar Mitrovic to head home, but after a look at the pitchside monitor, the referee ruled it out.
Al-Hilal continued to push forward and soon after Malcom shot just over from the right side of the six-yard box. It was not a costly miss. With 19 minutes remaining, Salem Al-Dawsari found Mitrovic in the area and the former Fulham forward sidefooted the ball to Milinkovic-Savic who smashed it home. It was the Serbian’s first goal for the club and sealed the three points and top spot.
There was still excitement to come. Three minutes later, Al-Dawsari almost scored what would surely have been the goal of the round and a contender for the best of the season. The Saudi Arabian international picked up possession inside his own half, beat three defenders but his shot from the edge of the area was deflected just wide of the left-hand post.
Al-Dawsari was on a mission and moved into the area with intent, flicking the ball over Solomon Kvirkvelia only to be brought down. His penalty was saved by Paulo Vitor but Milinkovic-Savic fired home the rebound to complete a comfortable win for the visitors from Riyadh.
Now they return back to the capital as the only team not to lose and as the team that will stay at the top until after the upcoming international break. When Neymar returns to action, they may take some dislodging.
JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad took top spot in Group C in the Asian Champions League on Monday following a 2-1 win over Sepahan in Jeddah.
It marked a third straight victory for new coach Marcelo Gallardo and, more importantly, the return to action after a lengthy injury for center-back Ahmed Hegazi, although Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante are still struggling with injuries.
It proved a rewarding night for the 2004 and 2005 champions, although the game was far from easy against a strong Sepahan side.
The early stages went according to plan for the hosts, though, and in the 14th minute Saleh Al-Amri scored in spectacular fashion. He lined up a free-kick just outside the penalty area before curling the ball home into the corner of the net.
Fabinho then had the chance to extend the lead but his header was off target.
There was nothing wrong with the header from Sepahan’s Ramin Rezaeian three minutes after the restart, though. Mohammad Daneshgar’s long ball from the left side found the forward free at the back post and his header bounced once before ending up high in the top corner of the net beyond Abdullah Al-Mayouf, who was in goal in place of usual No. 1 Marcelo Grohe.
The experienced goalkeeper had an impressive game and made a number of vital saves against opponents who enjoyed more possession and had more attempts on goal than the hosts.
It was left to Jota to settle the tie midway through the second half with his first goal in the Asian competition. After a slow and patient buildup from the back, Abderrazak Hamdallah picked up possession just outside the Iranians’ area and slipped the ball through for the Portuguese winger to stab home the winner.
Rezaeian almost earned the visitors a share of the spoils with a late free-kick but Al-Mayouf saved to give Ittihad and their new Argentine coach another win.
It means that the Tigers finish the group with five wins and one defeat and can look forward to the knockout stages, which start in 2024, with confidence.
It also means that, following a league game against Damac on Thursday, Ittihad can focus on the FIFA Club World Cup in Jeddah and an opening game against Oceania champions Auckland City. Gallardo will be hoping that the likes of Benzema and Kante can return to fitness in time for the tournament.
But, for now, Ittihad are on the winning track.
Al-Hilal made sure of top spot in Group D of the AFC Champions League on Monday with a 2-1 win over Nassaji Mazandaran.
Goals in each half from Michael and Salem Al-Dawsari proved enough to defeat the Iranians and for Al-Hilal to progress to the second round unbeaten and in fine form with 15 wins from the last 15 in all competitions.
Jorge Jesus’ men are looking unstoppable at the moment, even when they rest top-class international players such as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
Both of those players scored in last Friday’s 3-0 win over Al-Nassr in the Riyadh derby, and Al-Hilal carried on from where they had left off, scoring this time after just four minutes.
Mohammed Al-Breik collected the ball on the left side of the area and rolled it across the six-yard box. It evaded everyone but Michael who was there at the far post to blast home from close range.
The Blues continued to push forward and Saud Abdulhamid, Al-Breik, and Saleh Al-Shehri — given a rare start by his coach after his recent heroics for the national team — all had attempts on goal.
Home fans may have expected their side to stroll to victory but, while dominating possession, they were made to work for the second goal.
They thought they had it just before the half hour when Abdullah Al-Hamdan broke free of the defense, but his low shot was well saved by Hossein Khatir. That was not the end of the danger either, as the ball bounced off Amir Houshmand and headed toward goal before the goalkeeper clawed it off the line.
The visitors, who had already been eliminated, had not looked too dangerous going forward, but that changed just before the break. Hossein Zamehran took a free-kick from the right and Mahmoud Rahmati stooped to send a perfect low header toward the opposite corner, Yassine Bounou getting down quickly to make a fine diving save.
Al-Hilal grabbed a second goal early in the second half. Al-Hamdan lifted a pass over the defense for Al-Dawsari who, under pressure from defenders, pushed the ball past the goalkeeper.
It all looked too easy, and with 13 minutes remaining, the Iranians pulled one back through Rahmati. Kalidou Koulibaly headed away a cross but it fell to the forward who volleyed high into the net to give Bounou no chance.
That was it as far as goals were concerned, but there looks to be much more to come in the AFC Champions League for Al-Hilal.
London: The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Monday announced it had set up an independent cricket regulator after a damning report revealed racism, sexism, classism and elitism in the sport. 
The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) published its findings in June, revealing “widespread” discrimination in the game and making 44 recommendations. 
The ICEC was established in 2021 following a racism scandal centered around the treatment of Pakistan-born bowler Azeem Rafiq at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. 
The new regulator will be responsible for monitoring compliance with the game’s regulations, safeguarding, anti-corruption, anti-doping and anti-discrimination. 
The body will be headed by former police officer Dave Lewis, taking the role of interim director, and will be overseen by an independent cricket regulatory board. 
ECB chief executive Richard Gould welcomed the changes, stating: “It is important that the game has the best processes in place in order to enforce regulations. 
“The ICEC report recommended that we introduce further independence to the game’s regulatory process and the cricket regulator overseen by an independent cricket regulatory board will do that. 
“The cricket regulator is ring-fenced from the ECB, and that separation will ensure that their work is distinct from our work as the game’s promoter.” 
RIYADH: The champions of the fencing competition held at the Riyadh Club on Sunday were honored by Abdulaziz Baeshen, executive director of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and Ahmed Al-Sabban, president of the Saudi Fencing Federation.
In the men’s foil category, Ibrahim Al-Hodaib from Al-Nassr Club secured the gold medal, while Ali Al-Albinali from Al-Hilal claimed silver. Bronze medals were awarded to Al-Huda’s Mohsen Al-Shatti and Mahdi Al-Qaros.
The women’s individual saber finals saw Al-Shabab’s Ruba Al-Masri taking the gold, with Al-Hilal’s Alhasna Al-Hammad earning the silver. Bronze medals were awarded to Al-Hilal’s Ahad Al-Muahmmar and Al-Shabab’s Dana Al-Qahtani.
The Saudi Games 2023 volunteer coordinator, Ahlam Qadah, reported the participation of more than 1,460 volunteers in this year’s edition.
Volunteers, selected based on specific criteria, were assigned to 31 different competition venues across the Kingdom. Predominantly university students specializing in law, public relations, administration, computing, and medicine, the volunteers demonstrated a strong interest in sports and related activities.
Al-Masheal Crowns Al-Selmeyya with Gold in Beach Soccer Finals
Saudi Football Federation President Yasser Al-Misehal awarded Al-Selmeyya with the gold medal in beach soccer. Al-Selmeyya beat Al-Nassr 3-2 while Al-Jandal secured the bronze medal by defeating Al-Zulfi 4-3 during the finals.
Indoor Women’s Futsal Final Between Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab
The women’s football semifinals on Sunday saw Al-Nassr defeated Al-Hilal with a final score of 2-1, while Al-Shabab overcame Al-Qadisiyah 8-1.
The final match between Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. local time. It will be held at Al-Nassr Club, preceded by a third-place match between Al-Hilal and Al-Qadisiyah at 3 p.m.
Men’s Basketball Semifinals Set
Al-Hilal secured a spot in the basketball semifinals after defeating Al-Fateh 91-52 in the quarterfinals held on Sunday at the Green Hall of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex. Al-Nassr beat Al-Safa 74-63 in a close bout, while Al-Ahli edged out Al-Ittihad 64-60. Tuesday’s semifinals will see Al-Hilal face Al-Ahli and Al-Nassr play Ohud.
Women’s Basketball Quarterfinals Kick Off
The women’s basketball quarterfinals began on Monday at the Green Hall of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex. Defending champions Jeddah United faced Al-Qadisiyah at 2 p.m., Al-Ittihad vs. Al-Nassr at 4 p.m., Al-Hilal vs. Al-Ahli at 6 p.m., and Al-Nawras vs. Al-Asima at 8 p.m.
Youth and Women’s Fencing Champions
In the youth category, Al-Adalah’s Jehad Al-Obaid won the men’s saber gold medal, while Al-Omran’s Ali Saeed Al-Hashem claimed silver. Al-Adalah’s Ahmed Al-Omran and Al-Watani’s Abdulsalam Turk Al-Anazi secured the bronze medals. In the women’s epee, gold was awarded to Al-Huda’s Lamar Arslan after defeating teammate Wateen Al-Toukhy, who took silver. Hala Khaled Khadawardi of Al-Ittihad and Yassmin Al-Saleh of Al-Nassr claimed bronze.
Karate Concludes with 11 Weight Categories
The karate competition concluded on Monday at King Saud University, featuring finals in the women’s open weight category and the men’s 60 kg, 67 kg, 75 kg, 84 kg, and over 84 kg divisions. The youth women’s open weight finals will begin alongside the youth men’s 55 kg, 61 kg, 68 kg, and 76 kg finals.
Muay Thai Concludes Competitions
The muay thai finals were held on Monday at King Saud University. Ghadah Al-Shehri faced Haytan Al-Saif in the women’s 54 kg final, while Ahmed Rosli is expected to compete against Khalid Al-Dawalibi for the men’s 57 kg gold. Abdullah Al-Kahtani and Othmane Essaadaoui will compete for the 63.5 kg gold, concluding with Abdulrahman Bajaba vs. Soufiane Marzak in the 75 kg category.
Handball Youth Matches Continue
King Saud University sports arena will see the third group of handball youth matches take place on Monday. Sunday’s matches saw Al-Ibtisam beat Al-Safa 31-22. Al-Ahli surpass Al-Qarah 30-22 and Mudhar overcome Al-Hilal 34-18. Monday’s group A matches will feature Al-Wehda vs. Al-Hazem and Al-Huda vs. Al-Noor.
Four Matches in Men’s Handball
In men’s handball events, Al-Ahli defeated Al-Rawdah 30-26, Al-Huda overcame Al-Hazem 36-20 and Al-Wehda surpassed Al-Adalah 34-32. Four matches are scheduled on Monday: Mudhar vs. Al-Zulfi and Al-Jeel vs. Al-Qarah in Group A, and Al-Khaleej vs. Al-Muheet and Al-Njoom vs. Al-Safa in Group B.
LONDON: The “passion” of Saudi Arabia’s football-obsessed fans during this month’s FIFA Club World Cup in the Kingdom will set it up to host even bigger events in the future, two legends of the game said on Monday.
Former CWC champions Paolo Maldini and David Villa are in Jeddah this week as the Red Sea coastal city counts down to hosting the competition.
Both men have enjoyed glittering careers, including winning the tournament in 2007 (Maldini with AC Milan) and 2011 (Villa with Barcelona) respectively.
Now regular visitors to Saudi Arabia, the two shared their thoughts on the Kingdom’s growing stature and influence within global football.
 
“Hosting a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is a big challenge,” Maldini said. “FIFA is very strict when it comes to the terms of organizing a tournament, but with the passion here (in Saudi Arabia), I think they will find what they are looking for,” he said.
“I’ve been to Saudi Arabia several times. The first time was 30 years ago, and there are lots of changes since then. Saudis love football — this has been known for years, and I’ve experienced it personally. We have a goal to make this tournament one of the most important tournaments in the world, and this is achievable due to the passionate fans here.”
Villa echoed the sentiment: “I’ve visited Saudi Arabia four times in the last year — the passion for football is real here. Saudis have such a strong passion for football, not only locally but globally, too.
“To host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is very important to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi League is developing rapidly, and Saudi football is progressing very well. There is also a huge affection for football here.
“Football should always be for the fans, those who are passionate and want to watch the games. That’s why it’s crucial and important for Saudi Arabia to host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup,” he said.
The tournament, which kicks off in Jeddah on Dec. 12, will see the champions of the six continental federations clash for the right to be called club champion of the world.
Manchester City, Fluminense of Brazil, Egyptian giants Al-Ahly, Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds, Mexican side Club Leon and Auckland City will be joined by Jeddah’s own Al-Ittihad, who qualify as domestic champions of the host nation.

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