LONDON: It may have been just one match, but Al-Ittihad star Fahad Al-Muwallad insisted their 5-1 win against Al-Rayyan in the AFC Champions League will be the trigger for the Jeddah giants to salvage their season.
This current campaign has not gone according to plan for Al-Ittihad. Amid much fanfare they hired former Croatia and West Ham coach Slaven Bilic to replace Ramon Diaz in the dugout after just two matches and lead their charge at what they hoped would be domestic and continental glory.
Added to that they splashed the cash with big moves in the transfer market, buying Serbian striker Aleksandar Pesic and Australian international Matthew Jurman.
But the team did not gel and after just 15 matches at the helm Bilic suffered the same fate as Diaz and was sacked with the side in the Saudi Pro League relegation zone. As if to underline the turmoil at the club, Pesic has already been loaned out to FC Seoul in South Korea on a one-and-a-half-year contract.
But with Luis Sierra now in charge — Al-Ittihad’s third coach this season — the Tigers got their AFC Champions League 2019 campaign off to a storming start, thrashing the Qatar outfit at the King Abdullah Sports City.
And for the team’s talisman Al-Muwallad the hope is that the victory acts as a springboard to safety in the Saudi Pro League and success on the continent.
“We have been through extreme pressure in the past few months,” the Saudi Arabia international said. “(But) we are capable of overcoming all challenges.
“We wished our fans had attended the match and shared the joy of victory with us. We promise them that we will achieve better results,” he added.
It was the side’s first appearance in the competition since 2016, an illustration of the hard times the Jeddah side has endured having lifted the trophy in 2004 and 2005. But they showed few nerves at home as they put their faltering form behind them, displaying resolve having gone a goal behind in the 23rd minute.
After Gonzalo Viera had put Al-Rayyan ahead, Al-Ittihad struck back through Al-Muwallad and Abdulaziz Al-Aryani before goals from Ziyad Al-Sahafi, Abdulrahman Al-Ghamdi and Al-Muwallad sealed a convincing victory.
For the new coach there were a lot of positives to take into the battle to get out of the Pro League relegation zone. “Tactically speaking, the match was wonderful and the players showed a great performance,”
“We controlled the match after the other team scored, we created better opportunities. The result made us happy about the performance of the players.
“This is just the beginning. Starting tomorrow we will only focus on the upcoming match against Al-Fayha.”
“Everyone is aware of our difficult situation in the league; we need all players to (step up).”
The result sent Al-Ittihad top of Group B ahead of Lokomotiv Tashkent, who were also victorious after beating Al-Wahda 1-0 at the Lokomotiv Stadium.