Ronaldo delivers another hat-trick as Al Nassr ease past Al Wedha

By Sports Desk May 04, 2024

Cristiano Ronaldo crafted a decisive hat-trick as Al Nassr hammered Al Wedha 6-0 in Saturday's Saudi Pro League meeting.

Portugal veteran Ronaldo found the net twice in the first 12 minutes at Al Awal Park before completing his treble after the interval.

Sadio Mane teed up Ronaldo's third finish, as well as an 18th-minute strike from Otavio, who returned the favour for the Senegal international to score on the stroke of half-time.

Mohammed Al Fatil added a late sixth as Al Nassr recorded their seventh straight league win since their March 7 loss against Al Raed, moving them back within nine points of leaders Al Hilal.

Jorge Jesus's Al Hilal swept Al Tauwoon aside in a 3-0 away triumph on Friday for their fourth straight victory across all competitions.

Talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic opened the scoring at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium before Saud Abdulhamid and Saleh Alsherhi wrapped up a win that kept Al Hilal in charge of the title race.

There was no such fortune for fifth-placed Al Ittihad as they fell to a third straight defeat in all competitions after a 3-1 loss away against Abha.

Jota levelled after Grzegorz Krychowiak's 57th-minute penalty, only for Hassan Al-Ali and Fabian Noguera to power hosts Abha to a comfortable win.

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  • De la Fuente has got Spain 'excited', says matchwinner Torres De la Fuente has got Spain 'excited', says matchwinner Torres

    Ferran Torres says Spain coach Luis de la Fuente has "got us all excited" after they stayed perfect at Euro 2024 with a narrow 1-0 victory over Albania.

    La Roja were already assured of top spot in Group B and qualification for the last 16, but ensured they advanced to the knockout stages with three wins from three games, and without conceding a goal. 

    Torres, one of 10 changes from Thursday's 1-0 win over Italy, scored the only goal after just 13 minutes in Dusseldorf, latching onto Dani Olmo's precise throughball and beating Albania goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha with a wonderful first-time finish.

    The Barcelona forward's seventh direct goal involvement (five goals, two assists) is the joint-most by any Spain player since De la Fuente took charge (level with Joselu). 

    And the confidence and momentum is quickly gathering momentum for La Roja, who last won all three group-stage matches at a European Championship in their title-winning campaign of 2008.

    "I'm proud to represent my country," Torres said. "I'm going to make the most of the opportunities that the coach gives me, with goals, assists, defensive work.

    "I want to continue making history with Spain. I'm not going to stop until I do. I don't care [who we face next]. We're a great team, we're working hard, and the coach has got us all excited."

    On his goal, he added: "Before the match, I had already talked about it with [Dani] Olmo, that he would give me those passes into space. I didn't think twice when it came to me."

    With the identity of Spain's last-16 opponents still to be determined, team-mate Mikel Merino concurred La Roja have no real concerns regarding who they face.

    "We're talking about a team [Albania] that gave Croatia and Italy a tough time," the midfielder said. 

    "We were warned that they were going to be a very tough team. They can hurt you if you don't master the transitions. They made us run. But this team also knows how to suffer. When we had to resist, we did.

    "There are no preferences [for their last-16 opponents]. All the opponents here are going to be very tough. If you want to be the best, you have to play against the best."

    Goalkeeper David Raya added: "It was a very good game from the whole group. We knew it wasn't easy because of what [Albania] were playing for. They created chances, they had to get the three points. It's a very sweet taste for three games won.

    "We got the goal, and we left them in trouble. But in the second half, they took more risks."

    Albania's defeat saw them finish bottom of Group B with one point - one less than third-place Croatia - meaning England are guaranteed a place in the knockout stages, regardless of their result against Slovenia on Tuesday.

  • Euro 2024 data dive: Modric makes history as Italy leave it late and Spain stay perfect Euro 2024 data dive: Modric makes history as Italy leave it late and Spain stay perfect

    Euro 2024 continued to deliver on the drama on Monday, as Group B came to a thrilling conclusion.

    Matters were relatively simple for Spain, as the group winners made it three wins from three by seeing off Albania 1-0 in Dusseldorf.

    Yet there was late chaos in Leipzig, as reigning champions Italy salvaged a 1-1 draw against Croatia to book their place in the last 16.

    We round up the best Opta facts from the day's action.

     

    Croatia 1-1 Italy: History-making Modric strike not enough

    Luka Modric, at the age of 38 years and 289 days, became the oldest player to score at the Euros when he lashed home in the 55th minute, and it looked for all the world as if that would be enough for Croatia to sneak into second place.

    Yet Italy, and specifically substitute Mattia Zaccagni, had other ideas.

    Zaccagni curled in his first Italy goal with just 41 seconds of stoppage time remaining to send Luciano Spalletti's team into the knockouts, with a tie against Switzerland up next. It is the latest goal scored by Italy at the Euros.

    Italy have now come from behind to avoid defeat in two of their three group games at Euro 2024, after also beating Albania 2-1 on MD1 – they had only done so in two group games previously in the finals of the competition (2-1 win against Bulgaria in 2004 and 1-1 draw against Romania in 2008).  

    Croatia, who were also pegged back late on by Albania last time out, have failed to win any of their group games at an edition of the European Championships (D2 L1) for just the second time, after previously doing so in 2004 (D2 L1).

    Each of the last four meetings between Croatia and Italy in all competitions have been drawn, since a 2-0 victory for Croatia in a friendly in August 2006.

    Modric's goal came just 33 seconds after Gianluigi Donnarumma had saved the veteran campaigner's penalty.

    Donnarumma has conceded just two of his last seven penalties faced at the Euros, saving four of them, with one hitting the woodwork. 

    Modric atoned with a brilliant close-range finish, making him just the second player to score at four different editions of the Euros, after Cristiano Ronaldo (five).

    Whether or not Modric has played his final game at the tournament is yet to be decided, with Croatia relying on England beating Slovenia by a three-goal margin to progress.

    Albania 0-1 Spain: Pretty perfect

    With Spain already through as group winners, Luis de la Fuente made wholesale changes, but La Roja got the job done thanks to Ferran Torres' goal.

    Spain have become just the second side to win all three of their group stage games at a Euros without conceding, after Italy also did so at Euro 2020.

    It is, in fact, the first time La Roja have not conceded a goal in the group stage of a major tournament, too.

    Torres has been directly involved in seven goals across nine appearances for Spain under De la Fuente (five goals, two assists), with no Spain player being involved in more goals under him.

    Dani Olmo released Torres with a sublime pass. He provided his fourth assist at the Euros on what was his seventh appearance in the competition, with only Cesc Fàbregas providing more for Spain in the competition since records began in 1964 (five).

    Bayer Leverkusen star Alex Grimaldo came in for his first start at Euro 2024, meanwhile, and delivered by creating five chances.

    That is the most of any Spanish defender in a single match at a major tournament on record (since 1980).

    Unlike Croatia, Albania's fate is sealed. They have been knocked out at the group stages of the Euros for a second time (alongside 2016), while this was the first edition that they failed to win a single game (D1 L2).

  • The Numbers Game: Georgia looking to cause an upset on Ronaldo's big day The Numbers Game: Georgia looking to cause an upset on Ronaldo's big day

    Georgia know that knockout football is still within their reach as they prepare for their toughest test so far at Euro 2024 against Portugal.

    Roberto Martinez's side secured top spot in Group F with a game to spare after following up a 2-1 win against Czechia with a commanding 3-0 victory over Turkiye.

    Meanwhile, Georgia missed the chance to claim a maiden victory at a major tournament as they drew 1-1 with Czechia, but they did set themselves up with a chance of getting out of the group.

    Here, we use Opta data to preview Wednesday's clash.

    What's expected?

    After their strong start to Euro 2024, Portugal are the favourites to make it three wins from three games, with the Opta supercomputer giving them a 75.8% chance of getting the job done.

    While Georgia's spirited performances have earned them the plaudits, they are predicted just a 10.4% likelihood of an upset, and a 13.9% chance of taking a point.

    This will be just the second-ever meeting between the nations, with Portugal coming out on top with a 2-0 friendly win in May 2008.

    The Selecao look set to repeat that result, after putting a recent European Championships hoodoo behind them. Having won both of their group-stage games so far, Portugal have now won more than they had across the 2016 and 2020 editions combined (W1 D4 L1).

    However, only once before have Portugal won all three of their group games in the competition (2000).

    As for Georgia, they are chasing what would be a historic first major tournament win, having drawn and lost their opening two matches. Only Greece have got their first such victory against Portugal, beating them en route to lifting the trophy at Euro 2004.

    Georgia have proven tough to beat in the last year - since losing three in a row between June and September 2023, they have only lost two of their last nine games (W4 D3).

    Georgia aiming for a big finish

    Making their major tournament bow at Euro 2024, Georgia have caught the eye with their high-intensity approach to games, pushing both Turkiye and Czechia all the way in their first two fixtures.

    Georges Mikautadze etched his name into Georgia's history books after scoring their first goal at the Euros, before becoming the sixth player to net both of his nation's first two goals at the tournament, and the first since Andriy Shevchenko in 2012 for Ukraine.

    After a free-flowing attacking performance in their 3-1 defeat to Turkiye, which saw Georgia have 14 shots and hit the woodwork twice, they failed to recapture that same spark against Czechia.

    They did earn their first point, though, agonisingly missing out on that first victory as Saba Lobjanidze squandered a golden chance with the last kick of the game.

    Across the first two matchdays of Euro 2024, Georgia faced more shots (49), more shots on target (20) and had a higher expected goals against (xGA) figure (6.1) than any other side.

    Then again, Giorgi Mamardashvili made more saves (16) – 11 of which came against Czechia – and had a higher expected goals on target (xGoT) prevented figure (+3.05) than any other goalkeeper in the first two matchdays, conceding just four goals (excluding own goals) despite facing an xGoT of 7.05.

    It will be a much sterner test for the Valencia goalkeeper against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, but if he can maintain that level, he will give Georgia a chance.

    Ronaldo set to make more Euros history

    Playing at a record sixth Euros at 39 years old, Ronaldo had seen his place in the squad debated in the build-up to the tournament.

    He has started both matches in the competition so far though, and should he retain his place against Georgia, he will become the first European player in history to make 50 major tournament appearances (28 of those will have come at the Euros, while he has played 22 times at the World Cup).

    Questions continued to circulate after a frustrating outing for Ronaldo in their 2-1 victory against Czechia on MD1, as he failed to score from five shots worth 0.73 xG, including missing one big chance, as defined by Opta.

    However, he silenced some of those with another slice of history in their dominant win over Turkiye on Saturday, teeing up Fernandes to get his seventh assist at the European Championships - the most on record of any player in the competition's history.

    Despite being the tournament's all-time top scorer, Ronaldo is yet to hit the net so far, though the Selecao are the second-highest scorers at Euro 2024 with five goals. 

     

    Portugal have benefitted from an own goal in both of their games – only Spain in the 2020 edition have benefitted more at a single Euros (three), while no team has ever done so in three consecutive games at the finals before.

    Martinez will not be too worried about that though, after two commanding performances, as they look to stay perfect heading into the last 16.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Georgia – Georges Mikautadze

    Mikautadze, as things stand, is the joint-top scorer at Euro 2024, with two goals.

    With the chance to continue their run into the last 16, another goal from him could be the key to setting Georgia on their way.

    If he does score on Wednesday, he would be just the third player in history to net each of his side's first three goals in the competition, after Gerd Muller (Germany) and Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria). Not bad company to be keeping.

    Portugal – Bruno Fernandes

    The pre-match headlines are likely to be firmly focused on Ronaldo.

    But on the pitch, it could be Fernandes who sets the tone for Portugal, having been directly involved in 28 goals in his last 23 appearances for the national side in all competitions, scoring 15 and assisting 13.

    His strike against Turkiye was his first goal at the European Championships (in his sixth appearance), the second major tournament match he has scored in for Portugal, after his brace against Uruguay at the 2022 World Cup.

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