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Neymar credits Ronaldo as catalyst for Saudi League transformation

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Neymar has credited Cristiano Ronaldo for kickstarting the remarkable transformation of the Saudi Pro League, while the Brazilian forward said he was extremely motivated to deliver success for Al Hilal.

Neymar, 31, completed a blockbuster move from Paris Saint-Germain to Hilal earlier this week, shattering the Saudi Pro League (SPL) transfer record to become the latest high-profile player to move to the kingdom during an unprecedented summer transfer window.

The Brazil captain follows the likes of Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema, World Cup winner N’Golo Kante, Manchester City treble-winner Riyad Mahrez, and former Liverpool quartet Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Fabinho in moving to the Saudi Pro League this summer.

Neymar joins a Hilal side who have made several stunning deals of their own. The Riyadh giants, the most successful club in Saudi football, have broken the league transfer record three times this window, first by recruiting Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves from Wolves and again with the signing of Brazilian winger Malcom from Zenit St Petersburg, before Neymar completed the hat-trick.

Former Chelsea and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly and midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, previously of Lazio, will also be Neymar’s teammates.

It was Ronaldo, though, who seemingly paved the way when he joined Al Nassr in December last year, while the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in the league’s four biggest clubs has allowed this transformative summer to take place.

“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 since joining Hilal, adding that he’s excited to take on the Portuguese superstar and the rest of the big players in the league.

“It is exciting, meeting top quality players on the other teams thrills you, and motivates you to play even better,” he said. “And it is a given when you face Ronaldo, Benzema, Firmino, that the excitement is even greater. So I am happy to join this league, facing them will be wonderful, it will be fantastic.”

Neymar, who signed a two-year contract with Hilal, undoubtedly adds even greater star power to the SPL, arriving with one of the most glittering records in world football which comprises 22 major club trophies for Santos, Barcelona, and PSG including seven league titles, the Uefa Champions League, and Copa Libertadores.

He is therefore the ideal fit for Hilal – the most successful club in Asian football with 66 trophies, including 18 league titles and four Asian Champions League titles, but Neymar insisted the focus is on the present and future.

“The league will be very competitive, especially after the signings made in the summer transfer window,” he said. “I believe competitiveness is important. That’s why I am joining this league. I am driven by challenges. I am there to help the league grow.”

Neymar is accustomed to playing alongside some of the most talented players in the world; at Hilal it will be no different, and he revealed the squad was a key factor in his decision to join the club.

“I think it is very important to have quality in the squad,” he said. “Obviously it helps in some decisions you take throughout your career. It was certainly for me. I am very excited to write a new story chasing all the objectives with the club and my teammates – winning more and more titles and fulfilling the club’s ambition. I am very excited in that regard.”

Neymar has not played a competitive match since March having been sidelined with a long-term ankle injury which required surgery. He did, however, participate in part of PSG’s pre-season as the Brazilian aims to regain fitness and he hopes both he and Hilal will continue to improve as the season progresses.

“It is a step-by-step process, training session after training session, game after game. We will grow more and more,” he said. “It is difficult to come and say ‘we are going to win’ before starting our work. That’s what I believe. To start work immediately, our objective is to win championships, win titles and surely reach the highest summit. It’s the fans aspiration, so that’s what we are aiming for.”

As for playing in front of Hilal fans, who help make the club one of the best-supported sides in Asia, Neymar said: “I believe when it comes to football, we have similar passion to that of Al Hilal fans. They can expect all the effort from me on the pitch. I will give my best for the club. Our goal is winning titles.”

Neymar not only becomes the latest Brazilian to join the SPL this summer, but continues an impressive tradition of Brazilian players to represent Hilal, following in the footsteps of of 1970 World Cup winner Rivellino. Since then, more than 30 Brazilian players have played for the Riyadh club.

“Of course a lot of Brazil will be watching the league,” Neymar said. “Obviously I will be there and I expect all Brazilians and everybody following league to support Al Hilal! The message I have for them is I will do my best to make them enjoy football, our goal is winning all titles.”

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They still bully me after 14 years – Aiyegbeni on missing tap-in for Nigeria

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Former Super Eagles striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni has cried out over the bullying he suffers in the hands of Nigerians over the goal he missed 13 to 14 years ago.

Nigerian football fanatics are finding it difficult to forget the events of June 22, 2010 when Aiyegbeni missed a tap-in during a World Cup game between Nigeria and South Korea.

The miss came when Nigeria was trailing the Koreans 2-1 in their final Group A match at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, South Africa.

The ‘Yak’ would later score from the penalty spot but Super Eagles fans were, at the time, unable to move past the unbelievable miss.

In a recent interview, the video was shared on social media platform, X, and he cried out that he is still getting messages from angry fans who are demanding an explanation of how he missed the tap-in with the goalkeeper and defenders out of the way.

“I still get messages from people. Different messages. I remember one was sending a message last week and he was like ‘how do you explain that goal missed to you daughter Kayla’ he mentioned my daughter’s name ‘Kayla’. I was like 13 to 14 years ago and people still think about that,” he said.

“I got a message today and someone was like ‘you’re the worst Super Eagles striker’ because of that particular goal I missed. They never think about all the other goals I’ve scored.

“They never think about when I scored goals in Sudan when nobody thought we’d qualify for Korea Japan 2002. We went to Sudan. Nobody ever thought we’d qualify because the weather there was crazy. If we get a draw or lose we’re out.

“There I scored 2 goals. Julius Aghahowa scored one and Jay Jay Okocha, ‘pa Jay’ scored another one. We won 4-0. That gave us the ticket and went to Korea-Japan 2000.

“But people in Nigeria never speak about how I made them qualify but didn’t go to the World Cup. I was shocked. I played 99.9% of every game to qualify Nigeria for Japan/Korea and I was dropped.”

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Inter Miami making Messi work too hard – Coach, Martino

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Inter Miami are expecting too much work from their Argentine star Lionel Messi, coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday, ahead of the team’s Florida derby clash with Orlando City.

Miami are unbeaten in their opening two games, with a home win over Real Salt Lake followed by a draw at the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday.

But with a busy run of fixtures for club and country coming up for Messi this month, Martino says the team need to find a way to reduce the eight-times Ballon d’Or winner’s workload.

“I feel that in these last two matches, he has expended too much energy, and that is also my responsibility to make sure the team operates in a way that we can use him in the best way,” Martino told reporters.

Messi has been playing in a relatively free role, behind former Barcelona team-mate Luis Suarez, often floating deep to find the ball and then seeking to drive his team up the field.

It was Messi’s stoppage time goal that earned Miami a point at the Galaxy but Martino says the performance took a lot out of the 36-year-old.

“I’ve been discussing some things with him and what concerns me the most is the day-to-day and how he is recovering game by game. I feel that in these first two matches, we have relied on him too much, which has caused him significant fatigue in both games,” he said.

The former Argentina and Mexico national team coach said the team have to re-find a way to provide Messi service closer to goal.

“In the Leagues Cup game against Orlando (last season), he often found the ball in the final quarter of the field and was able to finish the play, he scored from inside the area. That’s what we need to get back to, the team finding him to make plays and sometimes finding him for the finishes,” he said.

Miami are hoping their latest Argentine signing, midfielder Federico Redondo will have his paperwork resolved in order to make his debut on Saturday.

 

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Lagos FA Cup Kicks Off With No Sponsor, 80 Clubs Eye Star Prize

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Chairman Lagos State Football Association, LSFA, Ogboni Fouad Oki says this year’s Lagos State Challenge Cup popularly known as Lagos FA Cup would go ahead without sponsor.

The much awaited Lagos FA Cup would kick off on Saturday 2 March 2024 across the designated centers.

No fewer than 80 clubs are expected to participate in this year’s edition.

Although Winners Golden Bet, a well known Betting Company has been sponsoring the Lagos FA Cup more than six years, but the company is not part of this year’s edition which gives football stakeholders a lot of concerns.

Oki explained that he is not disturbed that no company or individual has partnered with the association for FA Cup but remained optimistic that the competition would get a sponsor before it gets to the quarter final stage.

“I am not too bothered about the sponsorship of the competition.If you look at the country presently, many companies are still struggling to survive but i want to assure the participating teams and football fans before the tournament reaches quarter final, sponsor would surely come.

“We the organising committee are still working on the possibility to get one or two sponsors on board.Like i said i am not really worried and the most important things is that the competition would kick off on Saturday,”he said.

The Lagos FA boss expressed satisfaction with the number of teams that are participating in this year’s edition.

He disclosed that the state has largest number of entries among the states in the country and charged the teams that would represent the the state to do well in the Federation Cup and possibly win the trophy.

“Lagos has number of entries compare to other states that have less than 10 teams in their state’s FA Cup.If we have such numbers of teams registered and i expect any team that would represent Lagos should make us proud and bring the Federation Cup back to the state,”he said.

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