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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Saudi Arabian crown await Ighalo and Al-Hilal teammates

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s first season in the Saudi Arabian league looks set to end without winning the championship. Rather, it is Odion Ighalo’s Al Hilal that is set to wear the crown.

Al Hilal defender Mohammed Al-Breik says the Saudi side have no concerns that fatigue could derail their quest for a record-extending fifth Asian Champions League crown when they host Urawa Red Diamonds in the first leg of the final on Saturday.

Al Hilal, who won their fourth Asian crown in 2021, go into the game at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium showing signs that a packed season is taking its toll.

They beat Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr 2-0 before sealing a 1-0 extra-time victory over league leaders Al Ittihad in the King’s Cup in their last two games, but those wins ended an inconsistent run with many players showing signs of tiredness.

Despite appearances at last year’s World Cup and the team’s participation in February’s Club World Cup, the Al Hilal squad were taking the schedule in their stride, said Al-Breik.

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“We’re used to playing an intense schedule, we are used to doing this every season,” the Saudi international told Reuters

“Fatigue is not a problem. We know our obligations, how to take care of ourselves and we always do our best to recover.

“We might not have been at our best when we had a lot of games one after the other, but once all our injured players returned we showed the real face of Al Hilal against Al Nassr and Al Ittihad.”

A total of 12 Al Hilal players, including Al-Breik, were involved in Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Qatar, with 10 of them on the pitch for their stunning win over Argentina in the group stage.

“Our experience is going to help,” says Al-Breik. “But we’re facing an opponent who is going to be aggressive and who are going to make things difficult.

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“This will my third experience of playing in a final against Urawa Reds and we know they won’t make things easy but I hope we can succeed.”

Al Hilal won the most recent encounter between the clubs in the 2019 Asian Champions League final, avenging a defeat at the hands of the Japanese outfit two years earlier.

After Saturday’s first leg, the teams meet again in Japan seven days later at Saitama Stadium for the return fixture.

Finals during the pandemic were played on a single-game basis but with travel back to normal this edition sees the return of the home-and-away format.

Al-Breik said Al Hilal’s demanding supporters will push their team to success.

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“Our fans are always wanting everything,” he says. “They are our motor, our driver to achieve our goals. They have always been like this and it’s thanks to them that we’re always on top.”

-Reuters

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Ronaldo breaks Saudi League’s single-season scoring record

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Saudi Pro League - Al Nassr v Al Ittihad - Al-Awwal Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - May 27, 2024 Al Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS/Stringer

Al Nasr’s Cristiano Ronaldo capped his first full Saudi Pro League season in style as he broke the record for the most goals scored in one campaign on Monday.

The Portuguese 39-year-old scored a brace in his side’s 4-2 win over Al Ittihad on the final matchday to bring his league tally this season to 35 goals.

The previous record was held by former Al Nasr forward and Moroccan international Abderrazak Hamdallah, who scored 34 goals in 2018-19.

Ronaldo, who played for Sporting, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus, joined Al Nasr in January 2023.

-Reuters

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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Ighalo’s former club, Al-Hilal secure Saudi League title

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Saudi Pro League - Al Hilal v Al Hazem - Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - May 11, 2024 Al Hilal fans display banners in the stands as the celebrate after winning the Saudi Pro League REUTERS/Stringer

Undefeated Al-Hilal won a record-extending 19th Saudi Pro League title on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Al-Hazem to reclaim the trophy from Al-Ittihad who won it last season.

Jorge Jesus’ side hold a 12-point advantage over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr in second with three matches remaining.

Aleksandar Mitrovic gave Al-Hilal the lead from the penalty spot after 15 minutes but Faiz Selemani netted the equaliser for Al-Hazem in the 34th minute.

However, Jesus’s side took the lead again with an own goal from Ahmed Al-Juwaid in the 39th minute.

Mitrovic scored again in first-half stoppage time and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic scored three minutes later to make it 4-1.

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Al-Hilal are chasing the treble having clinched the Saudi Super Cup title in April, and having reached the Saudi King’s Cup final where they will play Al-Nassr.

-Reuters

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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Morocco’s Hamdallah whipped by fan  after Saudi Super Cup final

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A fan at the Saudi Super Cup final lashed an Al-Ittihad player with a whip during a confrontation moments after the match Thursday night.

The incident occurred following Al-Ittihad’s 4-1 loss to Al-Hilal in the final played at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.

A video circulating on social media shows striker Abderrazak Hamdallah throwing water from a bottle at the fan, who responds by pulling out a long whip and lashing at the Morocco international twice — appearing to hit the player’s back the second time.

The 33-year-old Hamdallah, who had missed a penalty but later scored his team’s only goal during the game, did not appear to be injured.

As Hamdallah’s teammates stepped in, the fan was guided away by another spectator and a security official. In the video, the fan did not appear to be detained.

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A young fan in a wheelchair was nearly caught in the middle of the altercation. Former Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema plays for Al-Ittihad but was not close to the incident. Injured Al-Hilal star Neymar didn’t play in the game but helped his team lift the trophy during the celebrations.

In 2023, the Super Cup was expanded from a single game between the league champions and King’s Cup winners to include the runners-up from both competitions. It was also moved to Abu Dhabi.

Al-Ittihad did not respond to a request for comment.

Hamdallah played on the Morroco team that reached the semifinals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He came on as a substitute in three group-stage games.

He is in his sixth season playing in Saudi Arabia.

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-AP

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