Al-Hilal reclaim Saudi league title with thumping 4-1 win on final day of the season

Updated 13 April 2018
0

Al-Hilal reclaim Saudi league title with thumping 4-1 win on final day of the season

Riyadh: Al-Hilal produced an exceptional and competent performance on the last day of the Saudi Pro League season to wrap up a record 15th league title for Al-Za’eem after comfortably dispatching Al-Fateh 4-1 in front of more than 24,000 spectators at the King Saud University stadium in Riyadh.

After 26 rounds of the Saudi Pro League, 180 matches played over 244 days, it had come down to just 90 minutes of football to see whether the 2018 Saudi League crown would go to the league leaders and reigning champions from Riyadh or Al-Ahli of Jeddah, who lay just a point behind in second.

Al-Hilal’s interim coach Juani Brown had only taken charge just 50 days prior after the sacking of Argentine compatriot Ramón Díaz after a 1-0 defeat to Iranian club Esteghlal Tehran in the AFC Champions League. Diaz had won the Saudi King’s Cup and Saudi Professional League last season and reached the final of 2017 AFC Champions League however the club board of directors had decided to sack the Argentine following a string of unsatisfactory team performances.

The 40 year-old Brown had been supervising the club’s Under 21s before he was named coach of the senior side and had kept the club on course for the title, with the team picking up seven points from a possible 12 under the young coach.

On the last day of the season, Al-Hilal who had led at the top of the Saudi Pro League table from September 30, took on fourth-placed Al-Fateh in Riyadh while Al-Ahli, who were looking to take advantage of any slip-up from the defending champions, played bottom placed club Ohod.

Al-Ahli needed to win and hope Al-Fateh could manage at least a draw against the league leaders, a result which would allow the “Green Fortress” to move above Al-Hilal. They had been Al-Hilal’s closest challengers to the Saudi league crown and since the turn of the year had gone on an unbeaten run and picked up 21 points from a possible 27 narrowing Al-Hilal’s lead at the top of the table to just a single point.

For their must-win game against bottom of the table Ohod, a team with the worst goal difference in the Saudi league, Al-Ahli’s Ukrainian coach Sergei Rebrov dropped his top scorer Omar Al-Somah after their much publicized fall out after the 0-0 draw with Al-Hilal along with midfielder Abdul-Fattah Asiri and instead decided to start Greek midfielder Giannis Fetfatzidis and striker Mohanad Asiri, who had 8 goals in 14 league starts.

But despite a 1-0 victory in Jeddah thanks to a 39 minute goal from their Brazilian Leonardo da Silva Souza, what was unfolding in Riyadh had stirred the league title firmly in the direction of Al-Hilal after an outstanding first half display from Al-Za’eem.

Al-Hilal’s Juani Brown had made two changes from the side which had played Al-Ahli in Jeddah six days prior. Midfielder Abdullah Otaif had been forced out from the injury that saw him replaced five minutes into the second half of the 0-0 draw with Al-Ahli in the previous game – in his place came 23 year-old Mohamed Kanu for only his sixth start of the season.

 

 
In attack, the Argentine coach dropped Venezuelan striker Gelmin Rivas, with only one goal in his last seven league matches and started Syrian Omar Khrebin who returned to full fitness to make for his first league start in three months and produced one of his best performances of the season.

The 2017 AFC Player of the Year was unplayable in the opening forty-five minutes, hitting the bar after just four minutes from a 25 yard free kick which had the keeper beaten.

Three minutes later after Czech referee Pavel Královec had booked Al-Fateh’s defender Abdullah Al-Dossari for a foul on the Syrian striker on the edge of the box. Khrabin picked himself up, dusted himself off and stepped up to score the opening goal, beating the hapless Al-Fateh keeper Ali Al-Mazidi who got a hand on the ball but failed to save the Syrian striker’s effort, which seemed to go right through the keeper’s hands.

The Syrian doubled Al-Hilal’s lead on 14 minutes when he raced onto a long-ball from the defense beating the offside trap and with the onrushing custodian to beat, the striker coolly and calmly tucked the ball under the keeper to the deafening roar of the Al-Hilal faithful over the stadium, sensing that it was going to be their day.

Al-Za’eem were now in the ascendency and confidently moving the ball around the field and moments later Omar Khrebin could have completed his hat-trick but failed to connect to Ezequiel Cerutti’s headed knock-down in the six-yard box, kicking only thin air as he fluffed his lines.

But just 22 minutes later Khrebin was able to complete his 33-minute hat-trick to all but deliver the victory and the league title, beating the Al-Fateh goalkeeper with a low shot in the six yard box that went under the keeper after Moroccan Achraf Bencharki had put Cerutti clear down the right flank to square the ball to the Syrian striker, with the Al-Fateh keeper Al-Mazidi again at fault.

Al-Hilal were putting on a show and Bencharki’s delightful back-heel found Yasser Al-Shahrani and the full back got down the left to cut it back to the Moroccan Bencharki in the box to score the fourth five minutes before half-time.

In the second half, Brazilian João Pedro netted a late consolation for Al-Fateh, but the night and the victory was Al-Hilal’s, who were crowned 2018 Saudi League champions, with a convincing first half display to win their 15th league title.

FASTFACTS

Al-Hilal dominance

The 2018 league title for Al-Hilal marks the 15th time the Riyadh club have been crowned champions of Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia to invest $15-20bln in Pakistan during crown prince visit

As Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in Pakistan, officials claim that the Kingdom may invest $15-20 billion. (PID)
Updated 17 min 55 sec ago
0

Saudi Arabia to invest $15-20bln in Pakistan during crown prince visit

  • Pakistani head of joint chamber of commerce says 30 Saudi companies expected to invest
  • Agreements worth $10 billion to be signed in non-oil and gas sectors

KARACHI: Saudi Arabia is likely to invest $15-20 billion in Pakistan during the upcoming visit of crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman next month, the head of Pakistan's board of investment said on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have offered Pakistan over $30 billion in loans and investments in recent months to tackle a soaring current account deficit. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to sign off on the kingdom’s deals during his visit, including a $10 billion oil refinery to be set up in Pakistan’s deepwater port of Gwadar.

“We are expecting Saudi investment in the range of $15 billion to $20 billion based on the interest investors have expressed so far," Haroon Sharif, Minister of State and Chairman of the Board of Investment told Arab News.  “However, you must qualify that these investments are subject to business planning and feasibility studies."

Sharif said Pakistan has also proposed that Saudi authorities hold a conference during the upcoming visit of the crown prince.

“We have sent a proposal to hold an investors’ conference during the visit of crown prince. Details will be shared after the response from the Kingdom," Sharif said.

He had also said earlier that Pakistan expected around $15 billion investment from Saudi Arabia in the next three years and roughly around $40 billion from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China combined, in the next three to five years.

Mian Mehmood, the Pakistani head of the Pakistan Saudi Arabia Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said besides the $10 billion investment in the oil refinery, another $10 billion was expected in non-oil and gas sectors, bringing total investment to $20 billion.

“Around 25 to 30 agreements are expected to be finalized during the upcoming visit of the crown prince," Mehmood, who recently led a business delegation to the Kingdom to explore bilateral investment and cooperation opportunities, told Arab News.

More than thirty public and private companies are poised to invest in Pakistan, including Saudi Aramco, Sabic and Acwa Power, Mehmood added.

“We roughly estimated that a similar amount [$10 billion] worth of agreements will be signed in non-oil and gas sectors," he said.

The targeted sectors for Saudi foreign direct investment are oil refining, petrochemical, mining, construction, power generation, agriculture and glass. “Ten Saudi manufacturing companies working in construction and allied materials, and ten companies interested in food processing sector will come to sign agreements," Mehmood said.

Speaking to reporters in Gwadar on a visit to inspect the site of a $10 billion refinery, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in the beginning of this year: “Saudi Arabia wants to make Pakistan’s economic development stable through establishing an oil refinery and partnership with Pakistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor."

Work on the oil refinery is expected to start within 18 months.

"Once the project starts production, the country would be able to save around $3 billion foreign exchange on costly imports," Samiullah Tariq, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, said.