Posts Tagged ‘Al-Nassr’

Al-Nassr v Al-Batin, Friday 3rd March 2023, 8.30pm

March 15, 2023

I’m beginning to get the hang of taxis in Riyadh. Most of the drivers speak little English and my Arabic is non-existent, so I’ll suggest a destination, they will hand me their phone and I’ll enter it into google maps. Occasionally there will be a meter and even more occasionally they might turn it on.

More often than not the drivers originate from abroad, sometimes Pakistan or Afghanistan but frequently from Yemen, as was the case for my journey to Mrsool Park. Despite our lack of a common language, he rang his family back home and had me say hello and wave to them on a video call. He also stopped at a roadside vendor and got us each a bottle of water.

I’d set off early from the afternoon game I’d been at as I was mindful of the extent of the traffic last time I’d been to this stadium. The journey went well this time, perhaps partly because we approached from a different direction but mainly as I was at the ground a good hour and a half before kick-off.

I’d not had anything to eat since lunchtime and so I browsed the options on the concourse. As well as the usual burgers and hot dogs, different concessions sold cake, ice cream, popcorn, pastries, slushes and coffee. There was also a kebab place doing chicken shawarmas, which is what I went for. It was exceptionally good, way better than the ones that were sold at the World Cup.

I also got a coffee from one of the other concessions, but there’s a no drinks policy in the seats and so I had to stay down in the concourse for a while longer. The wi-fi worked fine though and I was able to keep myself occupied until nearer kick-off time.

The expectation around me was for an easy home win, which wasn’t surprising considering that Al-Nassr were top of the table with Al-Batin adrift at the bottom. It doesn’t always go to plan though and the visitors went a goal up early in the first half. The header had initially been disallowed by the ref for a push, but the decision was corrected by VAR. I say corrected, but the two fellas next to me scrutinized it on their phones and were adamant that it shouldn’t have counted.

Ronaldo could have levelled ten minutes before the break after rounding the keeper. His shot was weak though and easily cleared off the line. A-Nassr applied the pressure in the second half, but it seemed like it wouldn’t be their night. Ronaldo put a couple of free-kicks over the bar and then as the clock ran down missed with a header and then a scuffed shot.

The holding up of the board signifying an additional ten minutes finally brought the league leaders and the crowd to life and four minutes into stoppage time Al-Nassr equalized. Twelve minutes in they scrambled the winner and with Al-Batin punch-drunk, immediately added a third. Those home fans who hadn’t slunk away with ninety minutes approaching went home very happy indeed.

Al-Nassr U17 v Al-Qadasiya U17, Friday 3rd March 2023, 3.50pm

March 12, 2023

It had been a quiet couple of weeks football-wise. Al-Hilal had been involved in the Club World Cup in Morocco and then headed off to Qatar where they and Al-Shabab were playing in the knock-out stages of the Asian Champions League. Al-Nassr were playing away and there weren’t any lower level or age group games anywhere in Riyadh. Fortunately, things were back to normal by this weekend, and I had a couple of games to go to, starting with an under seventeen fixture at the Prince Abduarrahman bin Saud Stadium, or as most people refer to it, the Al-Nassr Stadium.

On the way there I stopped off to have a mooch around Masmak fortress. Around rather than inside is the correct term as it was shut. I’ll have to go back some other time when the opening hours don’t clash with a match. Walking around the perimeter it looked like something that Disney might have knocked up, so I’ll be interested to see some photos from twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago to try and gauge how much of it is original.

I didn’t hang around at Masmak and instead took at taxi to the game. It wasn’t an official cab and I doubt it would have passed an MoT. The fella quoted me a price of forty riyals and when I hesitated, he quickly dropped it to thirty. My pause had been due to not wanting to rip him off and so I offered him fifty instead. He was a little bemused at my reverse haggling technique but happy to settle for what was still around half of what other drivers might have charged for the twenty-minute journey.

Al-Nassr Stadium is out to the south-west of the city and it’s where their first team played prior to the club outbidding Al-Hilal for the use of Mrsool Park. It has a lot of wasteland around it where blokes were taking part in games of cricket. There’s a construction boom in Saudi Arabia at the moment and I suspect that it won’t be long before the makeshift wickets are claimed for tower blocks.

The security guard at the stadium gate seemed to think that I was part of the tv crew and waved me over to where they were setting up. I’d have been quite happy to have pitched in and moved some cables around, but I doubt that my efforts would have been welcomed. Instead, I left them to it and took a seat in the covered main stand where the shade provided some welcome respite from the heat. Opposite was an uncovered stand that started off empty but accommodated a few people later in the game as the sun started to go down.

There were around thirty people watching as the game kicked off. Al-Nassr took the lead early on when they beat the offside trap. I wasn’t convinced but despite the presence of the tv crew, photographers with big lenses, wags in the directors box and all of other trappings of top-flight football they don’t have VAR at this level yet and so the goal stood. A couple of minutes later an away defender failed to clear a cross and a simple finish made it two.

At that point Al-Qadasiya made their first sub. Hopefully the lad had picked up a knock and wasn’t being scapegoated for the two quick goals.

Maybe the sub made a difference as the game evened up and we reached half-time with just the two goals in it. Someone came around distributing bottles of water, which were well received. As the second half went on the crowd grew to around a hundred and fifty, some of them Al-Nassr kids from other age-group teams, others were cricketers from the wasteland calling in once they’d had enough of their own games.

Al-Nassr added a couple more goals before the end, with the four-nil score reflecting their superiority. I headed off at full-time in a taxi bound for Mrsool Park and their first team fixture.

Al-Nassr v Al Taawoun, Friday 17th February 2023, 6pm

March 9, 2023

As you might have expected I’d been keen to see Ronaldo turning out for Al-Nassr. I missed his first game at Mrsool Park, a fixture that sold out pretty much within minutes. I kept checking their website over the next few days and was rewarded with the chance to buy a half season ticket, which in this case equated to the remaining seven games. It worked out at around eighteen quid a match, so not a great deal different to the Boro.

On the morning of the game, I called in at Riyadh Zoo. It’s just around the corner from where I’m staying, and I thought it might be an interesting change from walking around the local park. I’m not really a fan of zoos, although I doubt anyone is really. With the temperatures rising in Riyadh, I arrived early. There were already a lot of people inside, mainly families, which you tend to get visiting Zoos.

Checking out animals that I’d previously seen in the wild brought back a lot of memories, from hundred-strong herds of elephants in Addo, to the sleeping brown bear that Jen and I stumbled across in Shenandoah in the US. There was an Arabian wolf, which I’ve not seen anywhere before. Hopefully I’ll get to see one of those in a more natural environment, perhaps foraging through a wheelie bin for the remains of a chicken shawarma.

A highlight might very well have been the dassies, most of which were sleeping in the sun. I spent a while just leaning on their enclosure wall as most people scurried by in search of something more prestigious. They looked thinner than the ones that would visit our garden in Bronkhorstspruit, although that might be because those little bastards would scoff the roses from the pots that I’d put on the patio.

The trip to the stadium took over an hour to cover a route that should really have taken half that time. The taxi was caught in tailbacks long before we could see the ground, which worked well for the flag and scarf sellers weaving in and out of the stationary traffic.

Once I’d got out I had to do virtually an entire lap of the ground to reach my gate, although once inside I had access to at least half of the sections. There was a separate entrance for season ticket holders and the bloke ahead of me might well have blagged his way in by pretending to talk on his phone as if too engrossed to show his ticket.

My seat for the rest of the season was ok, diagonally back from the corner flag and about three quarters of the way up a reasonably compact ground. I think that there would have been a decent view from just about everywhere. The club had left large flags out for everyone, but I was happy to shift mine along the row for some kid to pick up.

The hardcore Al-Nassr fans were behind the goal to my left. They let off a few flares before kick-off which meant that the opening minutes were played with smoke drifting around the penalty box. Most eyes were on Ronaldo and he started off busily, chasing people down, but in the way that Tuncay used to do for us where it seemed more for show than with any real intent to make a difference.

Al-Nassr went one up a quarter of an hour in, when someone who wasn’t Ronaldo chased a through ball and got there just ahead of the defender. Al-Taawoun clearly hadn’t read the script though and equalized straight after the break, before appearing to go ahead midway through the second half. VAR intervened to keep the scores level and then came to Al-Nassr’s help ten minutes from time by awarding a goal that the ref had originally chalked off.

By this stage the fella next to me was adamant that Ronaldo needed hooking, but that was never going to happen. Al-Nassr saw out the added time to take the points and move back to the top of the table.

Al-Shabab v Al-Nassr, Saturday 14th January 2023, 8.30pm

January 29, 2023

I always get a buzz when I see the floodlights for a ground, even more so when it’s a night match and I’m drawn in like a moth. I wasn’t the only one keen to get inside and there was a fifty yard queue along the wall leading to the main gate. Fortunately, I’d bought a ticket for the far end of the big stand and that meant I went in at the gate further around the stadium. There were no queues at all at that one.

I had the Al-Nassr fans to my left, probably about three hundred in total. That struck me as quite a poor turnout considering that they had sold twenty-two thousand tickets in under an hour for their upcoming home game featuring Ronaldo’s debut. Clearly a lot of those people are following the player and not the club.

I’ve noticed a few fellas here wearing what I presume are camel skin coats. The lack of seams suggests a larger animal than a sheep or goat and, given the location, camel seems plausible. They remind me of the afghan coat I had as a kid. I bought it via mail order from an advert in, I think, the NME around 1980 and a good ten years after the rest of the world had stopped wearing them. If it rained, it smelt like a wet dog making me wonder just what type of skins had been used to make it.

Al-Shabab were in all white and went into the game in third place, with Al-Nassr, in yellow and blue, top of the league. It’s tight at the top though and a two-goal win for Al-Shabab would have moved them into first place on goal difference. They had the better chances in the first half, but it was goalless at the break.

There wasn’t a great deal to excite the four and a half thousand strong crowd until the last ten minutes. An Al-Nassr player volleyed wide when it really was easier to score and in added time Al-Shabab had a header disallowed for offside.

Former Arsenal goalie David Ospina went down injured after the disallowed ‘goal’. I thought he was just trying to run down the clock as Al-Nassr had been doing for most of the game, but he’d busted his elbow.

The Al-Nassr sub goalie warmed up by booting the ball as far as he could rather than practicing his catching or doing any stretching. It turned out to be exactly what was required as he came on, wellied the free-kick up the field to restart the game and then walked off without touching the ball again as the ref blew for full-time. Mission accomplished for Al-Nassr who stayed at the top of the table in their final pre-Ronaldo game.