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Saudi League among toughest globally, wished more Nigerians will join – Ahmed Musa

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Following a barren spell that saw them win their previous league title in 1995, Saudi giants Al Nassr secured back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015 to establish themselves back on top of Saudi football and propel the capital club back into the AFC Champions League.

Since then, Al Nassr have been ubiquitous in competing for the different domestic titles, reaching the finals of the King’s Cup, Crown Prince’s Cup and Saudi Super Cup, but it wasn’t until the 2018-19 season that the club, known among its supporters as The Global, embarked on another title-winning campaign.

Helping the club to their impressive 2019 Saudi Professional League (SPL) title was the acquisition of Ahmed Musa who joined on a four-year deal from Premier League side Leicester City in 2018.

The Nigeria international signed for the Riyadh-based club on the back of a strong show at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he found the net twice against Iceland to become the first Nigerian international to score in two different FIFA World Cups.

While some have questioned the move, Musa says the switch was far from a walk in the park. “SPL is one of the hardest leagues. The people may look at it as very easy, but I don’t think so.”

“Many people think the league is easy, but when you play here you know it’s not that easy,” the 27-year-old said.

It was exciting for Musa to see the captivating football scene in Saudi Arabia upon his arrival in the kingdom, but he insisted the football-mad fans are like no other and are happy with nothing less than a win.

“The fans here are crazy about football, they’re not the same as Europeans.”

“When I first came here, it was difficult for me because of how much fans love football – they don’t want to lose! Over here, fans are always crazy when you lose a game,” Musa added.

However, no matter what happens on the pitch, Musa says fans are always happy to see him.

“One of the best moments here is whenever I go out [and] everyone wants to take a picture with you. I give the Saudi fans credit for this.”

The forward was in fine form last season, scoring seven times and registering the same number of assists as Al Nassr cruised to the title.

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Despite the team’s shaky start to the current campaign, they managed to return to winning ways and get their title-defence back on track, beating their arch-rivals Al Hilal in the process.

“We started the league very well, but we faced many injuries during the second and third games of the season, so the team was fighting, but the [2-1 derby win over Al Hilal] will boost the morale of all players to keep on fighting till the end like the way we did last year,” Musa said.

The Nigerian footballer has embraced life in Saudi Arabia and said it wasn’t difficult for him to adapt thanks to the big Nigerian presence in the kingdom.

“Back in my country [Nigeria], everyone always comes to Saudi, so I know the lifestyle here. So, nobody asks me how I cope or what I do in Saudi because most Nigerians are always here.”

Musa’s move to SPL didn’t affect his place in the national team, a testament to the strength and competitiveness of the Saudi championship, which has seen five different winners since 2012. He continues to turn up for the Super Eagles and is confident of continuing to add to his 91 caps and 15 international strikes.

“Since I started my career with the national team, I’ve always broken records. No player has ever scored two goals at a World Cup for Nigeria. I am now the highest scorer at the history of the World Cup for Nigeria,” Musa said ahead of linking up with international teammates for two African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho.

“I think with the years I have remaining with the national team I will reach more [records] than my former teammates,” Al Nassr player added.

Besides Musa, SPL is home to other Nigerian players, with more playing in the second division. Left-back Imran Ilyas Bakur represented Damac and Najran before settling now with Al Shabab, while Reuben Gabriel plays as a defensive midfielder for Abha, and Musa could not be happier to have more compatriots in the league.

“We now have some four Nigerian players playing in the Saudi Professional League. I would love for more Nigerian players] to come and play here.”

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Crystal Palace’s Zaha subjected to online racial abuse

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Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha has been subjected to racist abuse on social media and the forward shared screenshots ahead of their English Premier League (EPL) game at Aston Villa on Sunday.

The Cote d’Ivoire international tweeted images of the messages he received from an individual on Saturday, which included one of the members of the white supremacist organization the Ku Klux Klan.

“This is an absolute disgrace and should not be happening. We stand with you, Wilf, and anyone else who has to suffer such horrific abuse,” Crystal Palace said on Twitter.

Former Arsenal and Crystal Palace striker Ian Wright offered his support to Zaha.

“People like to make these experiences seem like it’s not the norm for black people. It’s always an outlier. `Not one of us’. `Not a real (insert club) fan’,” Wright tweeted.

“These are real people and daily experiences. Sooner we accept it the better we can deal with it.”

When the English top-flight restarted after a three-month stoppage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all players had “Black Lives Matter” on their shirts in the opening round of games.

This was in the place of their names.

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However, teams have been taking a knee before matches kick-off to show their support for the campaign.

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Hamilton wins Styrian Grand Prix in Mercedes one-two

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Finnish Teammate Valtteri Bottas, the winner of last weekend’s season-opener behind closed doors at the same Austrian circuit, finished a distant runner-up with his championship lead cut to six points.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen completed the podium on a sunny afternoon at his team’s home Red Bull Ring after starting on the front row and being passed by Bottas in the closing stages.

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Struggling Ferrari provided a major talking point with Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel colliding on the opening lap and both retiring from the race.

“What a weird year it is, but it’s great to be back up here, to be driving with this kind of performance,” said Hamilton, who started from pole position after a sensational lap in a rain-hit qualifying and remained in complete control.

“I’m so grateful to be back in the first place. It feels like a long time coming since the last race last year, and to come back in after a difficult weekend last week is a great, great step forwards.”

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The Briton, who wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt on the starting grid, again took a knee with other drivers before the start as part of an anti-racism campaign.

Sunday’s race was the first time a circuit has hosted two back-to-back rounds in the same championship year, with the original calendar ripped up and rewritten due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bottas, who started fourth and now has 43 points to Hamilton’s 37, said his afternoon had been about damage limitation.

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“I still got good points, still leading (overall) so it’s not too bad. Yesterday wasn’t ideal,” he said.

Red Bull’s Alex Albon finished fourth with Lando Norris fifth, a result that moved the 20-year-old McLaren driver up to third in the standings, after overtaking both Racing Point drivers on the final lap.

Mexican Sergio Perez was sixth for Racing Point, ahead of Canadian teammate Lance Stroll, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo eighth for Renault.

Spaniard Carlos Sainz completed McLaren’s double points finish in ninth and Russian Daniil Kvyat picked up the final point for AlphaTauri.

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Sports: Wolves see off woeful Everton to move into top six

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Wolves bounced back from back-to-back defeats to move into the Premier League’s top six on Sunday by inflicting another miserable away the day on Everton in a 3-0 win at Molineux.

Raul Jimenez’s penalty and Leander Dendoncker’s header a minute either side of half-time put the game out of Everton’s reach before Diogo Jota beat Jordan Pickford at his near post 16 minutes from time to round off another performance that will see the England number one scrutinized.

The victory lifts Nuno Espirito Santo’s men back ahead of Sheffield United into sixth and within four points of fourth-placed Leicester, who face Bournemouth later on Sunday.

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Fifth could also be good enough for the riches of Champions League football next season should Manchester City’s appeal against a two-season ban from European competitions fail when the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s verdict is revealed on Monday.

Should Wolves win their next two games against Burnley and Crystal Palace, they could have the chance to snatch Champions League football from Chelsea when they visit Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season.

Goals have been hard to come by for Nuno Espirito Santo’s men since the season’s restart last month with just four in their previous five games.

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But they were given a helping hand by an Everton side meandering towards the end of the campaign with little purpose.

Daniel Podence lured Lucas Digne into committing a penalty in first-half stoppage time and Jimenez coolly sent Pickford the wrong way for his 25th goal of the season.

Dendoncker doubled the host’s advantage early in the second half as he flicked Pedro Neto’s in-swinging free-kick into the far corner.

Pickford has made a string of eye-catching errors since the Premier League’s return and was inches away from conceding an embarrassing third as Podence’s shot squirmed between his legs before he just recovered in time to prevent the ball going over the line.

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Burnley’s Nick Pope shone in a 1-1 draw at Anfield on Saturday to end Liverpool’s perfect home record in the Premier League this season to further his case for ousting Pickford at the international level.

And the Everton stopper did his case little favors when Wolves’ third goal did arrive as Jota controlled Ruben Neves’s great long pass over the top before firing in at the near post from a narrow-angle.

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