DUBAI: Al-Hilal added the 2019-20 King’s Cup to their growing list of trophies after overcoming Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr 2-1 in the delayed final at King Fahd International Stadium in the Saudi capital on Saturday.
The triumph was Al-Hilal’s ninth in the competition and means that the club is now in possession of the AFC Champions League, Saudi Professional League and the King’s Cup.
Due to the disruptions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, last season’s final had been held over from May, and the rescheduled match happened to fall only a week after Al-Hilal had beaten the same opposition 2-0 in their 2020-21 SPL clash at King Saud University Stadium.
Al-Nassr looked to be clearly fired up from the first whistle, no doubt in an attempt to banish the dismal form that has seen them suffer their worst ever start to a Saudi Professional League campaign.
Sultan Al-Ghanam, one of their standout players in the 2-0 loss last week was booked after only three minutes, which would have consequences for him later on in the match.
But it was Răzvan Lucescu’s team who took the lead from their first real chance on 10 minutes, Sebastian Giovinco’s corner headed in by Jang Huyn-soo past Al-Nassr goalkeeper Brad Jones.
Buoyed by the early goal, Al-Hilal were briefly on the front foot and Yasser Al Shahrani could have doubled their lead five minutes later but, after a fine run down the right channel, had his shot blocked and Jones was able to collect comfortably.
At the other end Nordin Amrabat and Pity Martinez were getting some joy down the right wing but their final pass was often lacking, and Nassr danger man Abderrazak Hamdallah remained isolated for long periods.
On 29 minutes, Martinez should have squared the match after another fine run from the left flank but his close-range shot struck Habib Al-Wotayan’s near post and went out for a goal kick.
Al Nassr continued to be the better team and Amrabat’s trickery after 33 minutes drew Gustavo Cuellar into a rash challenge which earned the Colombian midfielder a yellow card. But an equalizer remained elusive and they would soon regret not taking advantage of their period of dominance.
With five minutes of the first half left, Carillo’s wonderful pass found Salem Al-Dawsari inside Al-Nassr’s penalty area but Sultan Al-Ghanam’s tackle looked to have averted the danger. However, after consulting VAR the referee awarded a penalty.
Bafetimbi Gomis sent Jones the wrong way to give Al-Hilal a comfortable 2-0 lead at half-time.
Al-Nassr coach Rui Vitoria attempted to shake things up at the break by introducing Ali Lajami and Ayman Yahya for Al-Ghanam and Abdulmajeed Al-Sulayhem, but the substitutions did little to turn the tide after the restart.
In fact it was Al-Hilal who looked to be the more energised of the teams and 10 minutes into the second half Al-Dawsari’s brilliant run almost led to a third goal but his cross was cleared by the desperate Al-Nassr defense.
With 20 minutes left, the substitute Yahya breathed life into the final with an excellent left-footed finish to half the deficit. Mohamed Kanno immediately replaced Andrea Carillo to bolster Al-Hilal’s defence as Al-Nassr threw everything they had at their tiring opponents.
The late onslaught almost paid off, but with 13 minutes left Al-Wotayan pulled off a spectacular save from Hamdallah’s superbly-struck volley to preserve Al-Hilal’s lead.
Al-Hilal themselves could have ended the contest on 90 minutes but Al-Dawsari’s scuffed shot was saved by Jones and they had to endure six more tense minutes of stoppage time. But despite penning their opponents back, Al-Nassr couldn’t find a late equalizer.
After receiving the trophy, Al-Hilal captain Salman Al-Faraj responded to recent concerns over the team’s performances by saying that winning three trophies in less than a year speaks for itself, and that despite inevitable drops in standards in certain matches, there was not much more players can do.
“I repeat that this is an exceptional season for Al-Hilal, we dedicate this to all our fans who we continue to miss inside the stadiums,” he said. “We promised them that we’ll win the Asian Champions League, the league and the King’s Cup. We always said the same thing among ourselves and we kept our promise. Today we were not great but in matches like this you just need to win the cup, you don’t need a performance. Al-Nassr were better in the second half, but we were better in the details, and we took advantage of that.”
He added that the coach had instructed them to stay calm and not be influenced by the recent win over their opponents.
“Al-Nassr have not had a good start to the season, and we beat them a few days ago in the league,” Al-Faraj said. “We knew they would come back strongly so we had to be the team that keeps their cool and keep control of our rhythm.”
Al-Hilal’s Italian playmaker Giovinco celebrated the win and insisted that the unconvincing performance in the final was of little consequence.
“It was a difficult game actually but in a final you don’t need to play well, you just need to win,” he said. “Especially this one, it was important because we closed a year in which we made a treble. It was difficult but at the end we deserve it.”
Meanwhile Carrillo promised the fans that there will be more to come from him and the team.
“I’m happy with the third trophy, the most important thing is that the whole group is performing very well,” said the Peruvian. “This is my third year at the club and things have gone very smoothly, the football here is of a high standard. I have a lot more to give in the future.”