RIYADH: The King’s Cup hopefuls were cut from eight to four on Monday and Tuesday, a round that brought plenty of action, thrills, and spills. Here are five things that Arab News learned.
Grohe saves the day for Al-Ittihad
After two hours of football ended 1-1, the Tigers moved into the last four with a 4-3 penalty shootout win over Al-Feiha. Knocking the holders out is always a big deal but it was a close-run thing.
Haroune Camara showed his strength, technique, and nose for goal in putting Nuno Santo’s men ahead.
No team have scored against Al-Ittihad in the league for almost 10 hours of action, a run that has seen them go top, but Ricardo took advantage of a fortuitous rebound inside the area to fire home past Marcelo Grohe. The Brazilian goalkeeper has had a fantastic season and already broken the league record for clean sheets by a foreign shot stopper and, despite finally conceding, was the star of the show once again.
Grohe made two fine saves in the shootout, the first and the fifth. First, he stuck out a hand to send Anthony Nwakaeme’s kick over the bar and then he flung himself to the right to deny Mohammed Al-Baqawi, and that was that.
Al-Hilal remain the cup kings
Who can beat Al-Hilal in a knockout competition these days? It seems that only Real Madrid, the most successful team in the world, can. After reaching the final of the FIFA Club World Cup and then the Asian Champions League in February, the Blues are on course for another trophy, and it will take a great team to stop them.
When Mohamed Kanno gave the Riyadh giants a 17th-minute lead from the penalty spot, a comfortable win looked to be on the cards, but Al-Fateh asked the Asian champions plenty of questions and were soon back level thanks to a great goal from Firas Al-Buraikan, a strike from a player who is full of confidence in the penalty area.
Michael took advantage of defensive mistakes soon after the restart to restore Al-Hilal’s lead but the dismissal of center-back Ali Al-Bulaihi midway through the second half would have shaken lesser teams. Al-Hilal, however, are made of stern stuff and dug deep to get a third goal late in the game thanks to Odion Ighalo.
Their league form has been a little mixed of late, but Al-Hilal take some stopping in cup competitions.
Al-Nassr’s local stars do the damage
Al-Nassr made short work of Abha with a 3-1 win. It was expected that the team in second in the league table would defeat their opponents, who had just collected one point from the previous five games, and any doubt was removed after a few seconds when Sami Al-Najei slotted home coolly from inside the area.
The 26-year-old has been consistently impressive this season. Al-Nassr have plenty of talented foreign players, not least Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most famous players in the history of the sport. But then there have been others such as Anderson Talisca, David Ospina, and Pity Martinez.
Those three South American stars would grace most teams in the world but have been absent through injury of late. The likes of Al-Najei have stepped up to ensure they have not been missed too much.
The same can be said of Nawaf Al-Aqidi who has looked at home between the sticks, and against Abha even Abdullah Al-Khaibari scored his first goal, a beautiful first-time strike.
Al-Wehda keep underdog flag flying
Al-Wehda’s 2-1 win over Al-Batin keeps their unlikely dreams of cup glory alive. The hosts may have spent the season in or near the relegation zone in the league, but such a struggle is not a surprise for a newly promoted team.
Yet their form has improved of late with a four-game unbeaten run in the league seeing the men from Makkah pull clear of the drop zone. That form continued in the cup.
They were also the favorites against the bottom club and are now in the last four of the King’s Cup, a competition they have not won since 1966.
Jose Luis Sierra has done a great job with the team since arriving in October. They are now harder to beat and are also finding the net on a more regular basis. If the league form continues this upward spiral, then a cup win really would make the season a success. For Al-Wehda there really is nothing to lose going forward.
Semi-finals should be explosive
Al-Wehda are already talking of revenge against Al-Nassr for their recent 4-0 defeat in the league and that should be a fascinating clash in April.
Especially so if, as is likely, Ronaldo and the rest are still going for the title and Al-Wehda have pulled away from the bottom, then there will be a chance.
For Al-Nassr, winning the trophy for the first time since 1990 would be a big deal and bosses would love nothing more than the image of Ronaldo, the player who has won everything, lifting the trophy and being seen around the world.
There is no doubt however that the glamor clash is the one between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad. It will be unmissable. The two have such a history, not least the epic title battle last season, and there is also the fact that they are both going for King’s Cup No. 10.