Al-Shabab all but end Al-Hilal’s title hopes with crucial Riyadh derby win

Al-Shabab all but end Al-Hilal’s title hopes with crucial Riyadh derby win
(Twitter: @SPL_EN)
Short Url
Updated 08 April 2023

Al-Shabab all but end Al-Hilal’s title hopes with crucial Riyadh derby win

Al-Shabab all but end Al-Hilal’s title hopes with crucial Riyadh derby win
  • After a goalless first half, the home side ran out 3-0 winners to remain in third place, six points behind Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad
  • The defeat leaves reigning champions Al-Hilal 8 points off the pace with only 8 games left to play

Al-Shabab defeated Al-Hilal 3-0 on Friday to remain in the Saudi Pro League title race while almost certainly knocking their Riyadh rivals out of the running.

Goals from Hussain Al-Qahtani, Cristian Guanca and Hattan Bahebri kept the hosts within six points of league leaders Al-Ittihad, and five behind second-placed Al-Nassr, with eight games remaining.

With Al-Hilal now eight points off the pace, the odds are very much against the defending champions challenging for top spot, especially with the top two in such great form and showing little sign of slipping up.

Although Al-Shabab were at home, recent and medium-term history was not on their side going into the game. Their winless streak against their city rivals stretched into double figures, and they had dropped five points from the previous three games. Meanwhile the reigning champions took to the pitch on the back of four straight wins.

The closest either team came to scoring in the first half was an attempt by Guanca after 20 minutes. Al-Shabab’s Argentine attacker let loose with a fierce, swerving, left-footed shot from outside the area that had Abdullah Al-Mayouf scrambling to his right to make a fine diving save and keep the game goalless.

Toward the end of the half, Al-Hilal piled on the pressure and, two minutes before the break, Michael shot just wide from the edge of the area after the hosts struggled to clear a corner.

The second half was much less cagey. Al-Shabab had been concerned about the red-hot form of their former striker Odion Ighalo, who now plays for Al-Hilal. The Nigerian had bagged nine goals in the past seven games, including four from the previous two, to record 16 for the season so far. Soon after the restart, his half-volley from the edge of the area was well-saved by Kim Seung-gyu.

The same pair were in action minutes later, as Ighalo twisted and turned from a similar position to curl a shot that was heading into the top corner before the South Korean goalkeeper intervened.

Such saves proved to be as important as they were impressive, as Al-Shabab took the lead in the 55th minute. Al-Qahtani collected from Fawaz Al-Saqour on the right side of the area and his low, perfectly-placed shot eluded Al-Mayouf as he dived desperately to his left, the ball squeezing into the bottom corner.

The champions tried to hit back immediately, with Michael shooting just wide, and it was clear that the next goal was always going to be crucial. It went to Al-Shabab just after the midway point of the half and was another well-worked strike.

Al-Hilal had expected a free-kick from the left to be floated toward the edge of the six-yard box but instead, Ever Banega squared the ball and Guanca was waiting to slot home and send the home fans, players and coaching staff into dreamland.

With 14 minutes remaining, the situation went from bad to worse for Al-Hilal when they were reduced to 10 men. Gustavo Cuellar was shown a straight red for raising his hands toward the face of Aaron Boupendza and wrestling the Gabonese star to the ground. Shortly after this, tempers threatened to boil over as Al-Hilal’s Jang Hyun-soo was booked for a wild challenge.

There was still time for Al-Shabab to rub more salt into the wound, as Bahebri pounced on Jang’s failure to clear the ball and fired home a third in stoppage time.

It all meant that this eagerly-awaited clash ended on a sour note for Al-Hilal. Ramon Diaz’s men have shown in the past that they have the ability to come from behind in the final weeks of the season but doing so once again looks to be a tall order indeed.

Al-Shabab also still have a lot of work to do but they will take a great deal of confidence from this rare win over their local rivals.