Naif Muhammad, Arab News
Published — Monday 31 December 2007
Last Update 31 December 2007 3:00 am
JEDDAH, 31 December 2007 — The Saudi League race at the top of the team standings is heating up between Al-Ittihad, Al-Shabab, Al-Hilal and Al-Nasr.
This shaped up after results of the round 14 matches show all four teams securing important wins, Nasr against Al-Watani 2-1, Shabab against Ahli 3-1, Ittihad against Wehda 1-0 and Hilal against Taie 2-0.
Ittihad remained on top with 28 points from 13 matches after that win against Wehda in Makkah on Saturday. Shabab secured the second position with 25 points from 13 matches, Hilal are third with 23 points from 10 matches and Nasr fourth with 22 points from 13 matches.
It is very likely that Ittihad could lose the top position if Hilal claim the 9 points from their pending matches and jump their total to 32 points. Ittihad, Shabab and Nasr reached a level where they cannot risk losing points and they could only hope that Hilal lose at least two of the three matches in hand. Nasr came a long way from the bottom of the list to the fourth position after a series of important wins including the last one against Al-Watani in Riyadh.
Wehda, Ittifaq, Al-Hazem and Al-Watani are in the middle warm zone of the standings. The performance of last year’s two-time major champion Ahli has been up and down but mostly down this season.
After 12 matches Ahli were stuck in the bottom position and after the Shabab match they lost every hope of climbing to the first or second position. Out of the possible maximum 36 points from the total of 12 matches, Ahli managed to gain only 13 points from 3 wins and four draws.
Ahli suffered five painful defeats and the last, 3-1, was against Shabab in front of their home crowd. Many fans say the Ahli debacle has more to do with bad luck than anything else and the Jeddah-based club has never been this bad since the mid 80’s when Ahli finished 10th in the league standings.
Meantime, round 15 of the league, gets going with three key matches. The round kicks off Wednesday with the match between Ahli and Hilal in Riyadh. On Thursday Wehda host Shabab in Makkah and Ittihad entertain Nasr in Jeddah.
For Ahli this is the death match they need to win if only to reassure the fans, end the series of disappointments and come back on track. Hilal look at the match as just another chance to collect 3 points in their bid to take over the first position.
The Ittihad coach is deeply worried ahead of the Nasr clash following injuries to his four key players namely Ibraheem Suwaeed, Saleh Al-Sagri, Manaf Abu Shgeer and Talal Asiri.
Al-Sagri injured his knee before the Wehda match on Saturday. Suwaeed sustained a bad heel injury during the match against Wehda and he might be out for weeks, according to initial medical examination. Asiri had muscle cramp during training and Abu Shgeer complained to the coach of his foot injury before the match against Wehda.
This left Ittihad coach with no option but to call his players from the Olympic team, who will be busy during Prince Faisal ibn Fahd competition. The names of the four to replace the injured on the Ittihad lineup for Thursday’s match is being kept secret and a closed-door training has been scheduled.