LONDON: “So far, so good.” That is the message coming out of the Al-Hilal ranks as the Saudi Arabia champions start their preparations for the 2018-19 Saudi Pro League season at a training camp in Austria.
Within the first week of their arrival in Europe, the defending champions have welcomed their 2018 World Cup contingent back to action, have strengthened their ranks with a high-profile international signing and won their first warm-up match with plenty to spare.
New coach Jorge Jesus is happy with the way it is all going ahead of the big kick-off next month.
“It is good to be here as the temperatures are much better for playing football,” Jesus, who was appointed in June, told Portuguese television. “It’s cooler here than back in Saudi Arabia with temperatures there over 40 degrees. Everything is going well, the players are training hard and we are working to be ready for the new season.”
The Riyadh giants have been training in Europe for a week and kicked off their build-up with a 5-0 thrashing of local team Rapid Lienz on Thursday. The scoreline included a brace from Brazilian midfielder Carlos Eduardo and a strike from Syrian forward Omar Khribin. Both stars missed large parts of last season with injury.
Ali Al-Habsi was between the sticks in that victory over the Austrians and enjoyed a quiet afternoon.
“We are still getting accustomed to the new coach as every coach has his own style,” the former English Premier League star said. “The coach’s style is different and we will get to know him at this training camp and all has been going well so far.
“We have been focusing on defensive organization and also trying to improve our attacking play and we know that we still have a lot of work to do.”
On Thursday, the defending champions welcomed back seven of their Saudi Arabia internationals from Russia. As well as Salem Al-Dawsari, who scored the last-minute goal against Egypt on June 25 to give the country a first World Cup win since 1994, Abdullah Otayf, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Salman Al-Faraj, Mohamed Kanoo, Ali Al-Bulaihi and goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf are now in full training.
They have been joined by a new arrival in the shape of Peruvian international Andre Carillo on a one-year deal from Benfica. The winger, who previously worked with Jesus at Sporting Lisbon and spent last season on loan in the English Premier League with Watford, should add firepower to the two-time continental champions.
“This is a new stage and challenge in my career,” said the 27-year-old who scored for Peru against Australia in the 2018 World Cup to give the South Americans their first win on the global stage since 1978. “I am ready for the challenge and would like to thank (Al-Hilal president) Sami Al-Jaber for believing in me.”
Coach Jesus is pleased with his new signing. “It is not always easy to convince top international players to come but he agreed and is excited to show what he can do,” he said. “I know Carillo well and asked him to come and join me. I am sure that he will fit in well with his new team.”
Al-Hilal continue their preparations with a clash with Slovenia’s NK Kalcer Radomlje on Sunday. Then come games with Fortuna Dusseldorf of Germany, Turkish team Akhisarspor and then a final European test against Serie A side Udinese.