Australian Open: Rafael Nadal moves within three wins of Grand Slam titles record

Australian Open: Rafael Nadal moves within three wins of Grand Slam titles record
Australian Open: Rafael Nadal moves within three wins of Grand Slam titles record

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Popular Lucescu pays ultimate price months after delivering historic treble at Al Hilal

In the end, not even winning a historic treble could save Razvan Lucescu’s job.

On Sunday evening, Saudi champions Al Hilal announced that the club had signed a “termination agreement” with the Romanian coach after a poor run of results, culminating with Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Damac, had seen the Saudi champions slip to third in the table, five points behind leaders Al Shabab.

Rogerio Micale, Al Hilal’s under-19s coach and the man who led Brazil to the 2016 Olympic gold, took over training duties immediately.

The club’s board of directors, headed by Fahd bin Nafel, said they “expressed their gratitude and appreciation to Razvan and his assistants for their efforts during their career at the club, wishing them success,” a statement said.

It’s an ignominious end for Lucescu, who had joined the Riyadh giants in June of 2019 after leaving Greek club PAOK. The trophies soon followed.

Within five months of joining Al Hilal he had led the club to a first AFC Champions League title in 19 years, beating Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan 3-0 on aggregate.

The 2019-20 season would prove a historically trying campaign for everyone involved in football but for Al Hilal it would also prove historic in other ways too.

Players and coach had promised fans that they would deliver domestic trophies to go alongside the continental title, and despite the huge disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, they kept their word.

The Saudi Professional League (SPL), like all global sporting competitions, was halted in March 2020, but when the action returned in August, Al Hilal romped to a record 16th championship.

At first understandably rusty, Lucescu’s team, led by the likes of French top scorer, Bafétimbi, Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco, the Peruvian Andre Carrillo, as well as Saudi Internationals Mohammed Al Breik, Salem Al Dawsari, and Yasser Al Shahrani, ultimately proved they had no peers in the domestic game.

The 2019-20 King’s Cup final, initially scheduled for May, was eventually contested on November 28, well into the following season. Goals by Jang-Hyun-soo and Gomis saw Al Hilal beat Al Nassr - who had also finished second in SPL - 2-1 at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh to complete a historic treble of league, cup and Champions League.  It was also their ninth win in the competition.

After a fine start to the 2020-21 season that saw Al Hilal top the SPL table, things started to go wrong for Lucescu in the new year.

In January, a series of damaging draws in the league were compounded by a loss to Al Nassr in the Supercup. On February 4, the writing was on the wall for Lucescu after a 3-2 home loss against mid-table Abha, and despite a 5-0 win at Al Ain five days later, last night’s loss to relegation-threatened Damac proved the final straw.

There is no question that Lucescu’s spell at Al Hilal has, on the whole, been a massive success and he remained a popular figure among the absent supporters. Delivering success during the most turbulent of times will not quickly be forgotten.

Now all eyes turn to Micale, whose biggest achievement to date has been leading Brazil’s U23, including Neymar, to a penalty-shootout win over Germany in the gold medal match. It was a widely celebrated triumph after the same opponent had humiliated them 7-1 on home soil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final.

He will have big shoes to fill at a club that demands excellence, starting with the home match against Al Ettifaq at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium on Thursday.

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