Al-Hilal have lost two finals already this year, in the FIFA Club World Cup and the Asian Champions League, and came within moments of losing a third on Friday in Jeddah.
But with his team a goal down to Al-Wehda in the King’s Cup final and 98 minutes on the clock, Ali Al-Bulaihi scored to send the game into extra-time. After that failed to produce any goals, the Riyadh giants triumphed 7-6 in the penalty shootout, with goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf making some vital saves before stepping up to convert the decisive kick.
Nothing, though, should be taken away from Al-Wehda, who came within minutes of taking the trophy back to Makkah for the first time since 1966. The Red Giants shocked Al-Nassr in the semi-final and were certainly not scared of the men in blue either. They attacked whenever the opportunity presented itself and almost took an early lead with a fierce shot from Anselmo that hit the top of the bar.
On the 20th minute mark, Alaa Hejji received the ball near the penalty spot but his shot was weak and went straight into the arms of a grateful Al-Mayouf.
Soon after, Karim Yoda fired just wide from the right side of Al-Hilal’s area. And 10 minutes before the break, the French midfielder gave the Reds a deserved lead, sending their thousands of fans at King Abdullah Sports City wild with delight. He picked up the ball in a similar location, a little further out, and then curled a shot into the corner of the net, with Al-Mayouf rooted to the spot. It was a fine goal.
Al-Hilal had barely been in the game up to that point, in an attacking sense, with an early header from Luciano Vietto that was tipped over by Munir Mohamedi the closest they came to scoring.
But the four-time Asian champions still have the talent to make things happen. Just before the break, Michael twisted and turned in the left side of the area but his low shot came back off the opposite post.
There was a greater sense of urgency from Al-Hilal after the break and it was not a surprise to see Odion Ighalo come off the bench. This more aggressive approach limited Al-Wehda in the chances they were able to create, but there was still a lack of clear opportunities for the men in blue as they tries to draw level.
As the half progressed, the game became more stretched. Al-Wehda had a shot cleared off the line, then the Riyadh club went up the other end and Vietto had a shot pushed away for a corner. From that set piece, Al-Bulaihi bundled the ball over the line from close range only for the goal to be ruled out for a Moussa Marega foul.
Al-Wehda should have extended their lead soon after. Yoda had a shot blocked in the area but the ball fell to Yahya Naji, and while the substitute had plenty of goal to aim at, he shot wide and sank to his knees knowing he had missed a great chance to tighten the grip the men from Makkah had on the trophy.
Al-Wehda were certainly not happy when the fourth official held up a board informing all in the stadium that there would be a minimum of 11 minutes of added time. It gave Al-Hilal some hope but Al-Wehda continued to work incredibly hard to ensure the increasingly frantic favorites did not get a clear sight of goal.
They were therefore devastated when, in the 99th minute, Al-Bulaihi steered Nasser Al-Dawsari’s low ball from the left into the opposite corner of the net, in what could only be described as a striker’s finish.
Six minutes into extra-time, Al-Hilal should have taken the lead from the penalty spot but Musab Al-Juwayr sent his kick just wide of the post with the goalkeeper nowhere. In fact, both teams had chances to win the game and prevent a shootout but failed to take them and so the penalties came.
Each team scored just one of their first three, with Ighalo and Andre Carrillo missing for Al-Hilal, although Al-Juwayr had the nerve to take his second kick of the night and this time the youngster made no mistake.
Both sides found their groove and the scoreline had reached 6-6 when Al-Mayouf saved from Hazzaa Al-Ghamdi. Then the goalkeeper stepped up to fire an unstoppable shot into the net that ensured Al-Hilal avoided a third defeat in a final this year and will end a busy season with some silverware. Meanwhile, heartbroken Al-Wehda will always wonder about what might have been.