Neymar is still looking for his first goal in Saudi Arabia as Al-Hilal were held to a 1-1 draw with lowly Damac on Thursday. Despite the dropped points, the Riyadh giants return to the capital as league leaders with 17 points from the first seven games of the season.
An early goal from Malcom put the visitors ahead as they looked to bounce back from a disappointing opening game 1-1 draw in the Asian Champions League on Monday with Navbahor of Uzbekistan. It didn’t quite work out that way as Damac produced a performance that belied their next-to-bottom league standing.
Hilal coach Jorge Jesus fielded a strong line-up containing the club’s big summer signings. Neymar was in attack alongside fellow Brazilian Malcom. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic also started, as did Kalidou Koulibaly in defense and Yassine Bounou between the sticks. Ruben Neves came off the bench at the start of the second half.
By that time the men in white were looking for a bit of a cushion as Damac, still looking for a first win of the season with just three points from the opening six games, had their moments.
Malcom fired the opener after just nine minutes but there was much to thank Neymar for. The former Barcelona star had dropped deep — as he did on numerous occasions — to pick up possession. He then threaded a pass through two defenders on the left for Salem Al-Dawsari to get to the byline — to pull back for the Brazilian to smash the ball high into the net from the edge of the six-yard box.
Al-Hilal wanted a second, and almost immediately from the restart, attacked down the same side but this time Al-Dawsari’s low ball, with Neymar waiting in the middle, was cut out.
Damac almost levelled after 14 minutes. Abdulaziz Al-Bishi blocked a poor clearance, and after pushing Bounou out of the way on the right side, could not curl the ball into the empty net from the tightest of angles. It was a let-off for the 18-time champions.
There was another warning on the half-hour. Assan Ceesay looked like he was going to give Damac the lead as he shot from inside the area but Bounou was quick off his line to make the save.
Then Neymar should have scored. With eight minutes of the first half remaining, Malcom drew a number of defenders on the right side and then slipped the perfect pass into his fellow Brazilian, unmarked near the penalty spot. Neymar shot toward the bottom corner but was denied by the heel of Sultan Faqihi.
Just before the break, Damac came even closer as Farouk Chafai headed against the Hilal crossbar. The hosts continued to push for the equalizer after the break and got back on level terms midway through the second half. It was a deserved goal though slightly soft from the point of view of the visitors.
There didn’t seem to be a huge amount of danger when Nicolae Stanciu lined up a free-kick more than 30 meters from goal, but the Romanian’s shot took an awkward bounce as Bounou went down to make the save and it ended up in the net.
Soon after, Milinkovic-Savic produced a pass of beauty to dissect the Damac defense and while Neymar made his run behind the backline, he could not quite guide the ball between the posts.
Both teams continued to push forward for the winner but neither managed it. It was a second successive disappointing 1-1 draw for Al-Hilal.
Elsewhere, Gina Wijnaldum announced his arrival in Saudi Arabia with a brace as Ettifaq picked up a dramatic 4-3 win at home to Al-Tai.
The former Liverpool star scored the fastest goal of the season so far, after 79 seconds, to give the Dammam men the lead. A hat-trick from Bernand Mensah ensured that Al-Tai were in the game as Moussa Dembele and then a second from Wijnaldum ensured it was 3-3 as the game entered injury time.
With 94 minutes on the clock Dembele struck again to send the team third, just a point behind leaders Al-Hilal.
Al-Taawoun are second after a 2-1 win at home to Al-Raed.