Al-Hilal defeated Al-Nassr 2-0 in the Riyadh Season Cup on Thursday, just days before the Rohsn Saudi League resumes after the break for the Asian Cup. It was the first time to see many of Saudi Arabia’s best players in action after the recent continental campaign.
That ended earlier than hoped thanks to a penalty shootout defeat at the hands of South Korea but while Saudi Arabian fans may have been disappointed as the national team crashed out of the continental competition at the second round they at least welcomed the return of domestic action. There was plenty of that to excite the observers at the Kingdom Arena.
The league leaders, Al-Hilal, may not have been at their best at the newly built arena, but they were clinical when the chances came and are still obviously the team to beat over the rest of the season.
Two goals in the first half did the damage for the league leaders who are currently seven points clear at the top of the table with 11 games remaining. Both Riyadh giants fielded strong teams –Cristiano Ronaldo started for the Yellows-but it was the team in blue who were on top for most of the 90 minutes.
The first goal came after just 17 minutes. Saud Abdulhamid, one of the stars of the Asian Cup, advanced down the right to pull the ball back towards a crowded penalty area. There was Sergej Milinlovic-Savic to calmly step forward on the edge of the 18-yard box to sweep a low shot home past the outstretched hand of Raghed Najjar. It was then 1-0.
Al-Hilal continued to stream forward and Brazilian star Malcom came close to extending the lead for the 18-time champions though his shot from the edge of the area was well-saved by the Nassr goalkeeper. Soon after, his Brazilian compatriot Michael danced around defenders on the edge of the area only to see his shot blocked.
The one-goal difference did not last long as Salem Al-Dawsari made it 2-0 on the half-hour with a beautiful goal. Fed by Malcom, the Asian Player of the Year took possession 30 metres from goal and then advanced to chip a perfect shot over Najjar from just outside the area. Later in the game Al-Dawsari seemed to pick up an injury but he left the pitch to a standing ovation from the Hilal fans.
As the game progressed, Al-Nassr started to get on top and Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been taunted by the home fans with chants of ‘Messi, Messi’, became more influential. In the end however, Al-Hilal’s defence held firm against the blue tide.
More important is the league title and there is a lot of football still to be played. Al-Hilal are still top of the standings and were superior but Al-Nassr showed that they have what it takes to push their Riyadh rivals all the way. It promises to be an exciting final third of the season.