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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Neymar credits Ronaldo for Saudi Pro League transformation

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Cristiano Ronaldo is responsible for transforming the Saudi Pro League, according to Brazil forward Neymar who is looking forward to facing the Portuguese international when he starts playing for Al-Hilal.

The 31-year-old Neymar signed a two-year contract with the Riyadh-based club on Tuesday after spending six years with Paris St Germain, in a deal reportedly worth about 90 million euros ($98 million).

Ronaldo, the five-times Ballon d’Or winner, joined Al-Nassr in December on a 2-1/2 year contract following his acrimonious departure from Manchester United.

“I believe Cristiano Ronaldo started all of this and everybody called him ‘crazy’, and this and that. Today you see the league grow more and more,” Neymar said in his first interview after the transfer on Wednesday.

The Saudi Pro League has since invested over 600 million euros to lure a host of top players and coaches from European clubs.

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Notable recruits include Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema from Real Madrid, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and Riyad Mahrez from Manchester City.

“It is exciting, meeting top-quality players on the other teams thrills you and motivates you to play even better. And it is a given when you face Ronaldo, Benzema, (Roberto) Firmino, that the excitement is even greater,” Neymar said.

Al-Hilal reappointed Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus on a one-year deal and signed former Wolverhampton Wanderers captain Ruben Neves, Serbia’s Sergei Milinkovic-Savic, Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly and Brazilian striker Malcom.

“I think it is very important to have quality in the squad. Obviously, it helps in some decisions you take throughout you career. It was certainly for me,” Neymar said.

“I am very excited to write a new story chasing all the objectives with the club and my team mates – winning more and more titles and fulfilling the club’s ambition.”

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Al-Hilal host Al-Feiha in the next round of the Saudi Pro League on Saturday.

-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.

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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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