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Ronaldo angered by blow to title hopes of Al-Nassr, opponents hail ‘checkmate’

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Saudi Super Cup - Semi Final - Al Ittihad v Al Nassr - King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh, Saudia Arabia - January 26, 2023 Al Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo in action with Al Ittihad's Hamdan Al Shammari REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

Al-Nassr suffered a huge blow to their hopes of winning the Saudi Professional League after a goalless draw with lowly Al-Feiha, and Cristiano Ronaldo left the pitch in anger after a frustrating performance on Sunday.

Leaders Al-Ittihad did not waste the opportunity to widen the gap with Al-Nassr to three points with the last seven games remaining, with a victory 2-1 against Al-Wehda. Al-Ittihad had an advantage also in a head-to-head result with Al-Nassr.

Ronaldo, 38, who joined Al-Nassr in January in a contract estimated by media to be worth more than 200 million euros ($218 million), hit a ball into the hands of goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, who kissed the ball in the 68th minute.

Stojkovic seemed to cast a spell on the ball as the Portugal captain fired twice over the bar in the space of six minutes, and Brazilian Anderson Talisca, the league’s top scorer, was ineffective also.

Ronaldo appeared furious while leaving the pitch after his goal tally stopped at 11 goals in 10 league games, and he took off the captain armband and left it in his hand.

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Al-Nassr coach Rudi Garcia was not satisfied with the performance, nor the result.

“The result is definitely bad and we are not happy,” the French coach told the Saudi Sports Company (SSC) through a translator.

“I don’t feel satisfied with the players’ performance. I asked them to play at the same level as the last game (in the 5-0 victory against Al-Adalah), but this didn’t happen”.

Al-Nassr, who won the title for the last time in 2019, will play a crucial game next week against Al-Hilal, the defending champion and fourth in the standings, which may determine the race for the title.

“There are seven games left, we will try to recover, and we realize that it’s not easy after we lost two points, but everything is possible.”

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Al-Feiha posted on Twitter an edited image of their captain Sami Al-Khaibari sitting in front of Ronaldo at a chess table, reflecting a famous advertisement featuring rivals Lionel Messi and Cristiano.

The image captioned “checkmate”, drew more than 1.9 million views, compared to fewer than 100,000 views for other page posts.

-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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Lionel Messi set to hang boots

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Messi Sets Record Straight Over Hong Kong Absence -

Inter Miami will be the last club Argentina captain Lionel Messi plays for, the 36-year-old forward said on Wednesday, adding he feels “a little bit scared” at the thought of the day he decides to retire.

Messi, a World Cup winner with Argentina in 2022, has a contract with the Major League Soccer side until 2025 following his arrival last summer after a spell with French champions Paris St Germain.

“Inter Miami will be my last club. I love playing football. I enjoy everything even more because I am aware that there is less and less left,” Messi told ESPN.

“I’m not ready to leave football. I’ve done this all my life, I love playing football, I enjoy training, the day-to-day, the matches… And yes, there’s always a little bit of fear that it’s all over.”

The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi is preparing with his national team to defend their Copa America title, with the tournament kicking off on June 20 in the United States.

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Argentina will take on Canada in the opening match before facing Group A rivals Chile on June 25 and Peru four days later.

-Reuters

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Bidding opens for Messi napkin that defined soccer great’s career

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A guest looks at a napkin, written on by Barcelona's Sporting Director at that time Carles Rexach on December 14, 2000, promising a contract to secure 13-year-old Lionel Messi for FC Barcelona, on display at Bonhams Auctions in New York City, U.S., March 6, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Bidding began on Wednesday for a napkin on which soccer club Barcelona penned a promise to sign a 13-year-old Lionel Messi – who went on to become one of the game’s greatest players – with early bids reaching almost $300,000.

The napkin was signed in December 2000 when Carles Rexach, then Barcelona’s sporting director, agreed with agent Horacio Gaggioli to recruit the Argentine teenager who went on to become the club’s all-time top scorer.

Bidding for the document, described by auction house Bonhams as “blue ink on a standard Spanish waxy napkin,” was at 220,000 pounds ($274,824.00) shortly after the sale opened, according to the auctioneer’s website.

The online sale closes on May 17 and has a guide price of between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds.

“It was never legally binding, but emotionally it represents the deep link or the beginning of the deep link, that Messi had with Barcelona,” said Bonhams Chief Marketing Officer Marc Sands.

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Messi helped Barcelona win 35 titles, making a record 782 appearances and scoring 674 goals. Messi left Barcelona in 2021 and now plays for Inter Miami.

“If you love football, you’ll know all about Lionel Messi and you will know that he defined football for generations. If you want a slice of that action, this is the thing to get,” Sands said.

-Reuters

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Maradona’s children wants body exhumed

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A fan of Argentine soccer superstar Diego Armado Maradona celebrates the idol's 35th anniversary of the "goal of the century", against England during the 1986 World Cup played in Mexico, in Buenos Aires, Argentina June 22, 2021. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Diego Maradona’s children filed a request with the Argentine Courts on Thursday to move the former football great’s body “to a much safer place” and for fans “to pay tribute” in a mausoleum.

Maradona’s remains lie in a private cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires where he was carried in November 2020 in a massive funeral procession. Only family members are allowed to enter the cemetery.

The mausoleum, called “Memorial del Diez,” is located behind the Casa Rosada, the seat of the executive branch of the Argentine government, and will be open to the public, Veronica Ojeda, mother of Maradona’s youngest son, told local media.

“All the heirs request by common agreement to authorise the transfer to his next destination of eternal rest (…) in a much safer place than the current one,” said the note presented to the court signed by Dalma and Gianinna Maradona, and Ojeda on behalf of Diego Maradona Jr.

“And so that all the Argentine people and the citizens of the world can pay homage to our father who was the greatest Argentine idol.”

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The relocation will take place around Oct. 30, the birth date of the 1986 World Cup winner with Argentina, one of the family’s lawyers told reporters.

Maradona died at age 60 in November 2020 from a heart attack. Fans of Napoli and of the Argentine national team worshipped him as the “god of football.”

-Reuters

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