The pressure may have been off Al-Ittihad in Jeddah on Wednesday but the celebratory atmosphere will never be forgotten by those present at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium. The memories will last longer than the 2-0 win over Al-Tai as fans heralded their heroes and first title-winners since 2009.
As expected, the hosts had the better of the 90 minutes but with the job already done, few of the home fans cared much that there was only a second half penalty to show for their efforts and then an injury time strike.
As well as a first domestic championship win for coach Nuno Santo, it was clean sheet number 19 for Marcelo Grohe and a third golden boot in Saudi Arabia for Abderrazak Hamdallah. The Moroccan scored from the spot with 17 minutes remaining against a backdrop of thousands of phones recording history and a moment that will be replayed again and again.
The goal took his tally to 21 for the season. There was just enough time for Helder Costa to add a second, a fitting way to end as the winger was brought over by Santo, his former coach at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Hamdallah finished a goal ahead of Anderson Talisca of Al-Nassr.
In the absence of Ronaldo who picked up a muscle injury at the end of last Saturday’s draw with Ettifaq that left the Yellows five points behind the leaders, Talisca took centre-stage as they defeated Al-Fateh 3-0. A smart low Abdulaziz Al-Aliwa pass found the Brazilian who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home from close range. Shortly before the break, he netted again but this time the goal was ruled out. No matter, it came midway through the second half with a smart first time shot from just inside the area. Talisca then assisted Mohammed Maran to make it 3-0.
In third, Al-Hilal ended an up and down season with an up and down performance, taking a 3-0 lead over Al-Raed before being pegged back to 3-2. It has been a good campaign for teenage midfielder Musab Al-Juwayr who opened the scoring after 17 minutes. Mohammed Al-Qahtani added a second before the break and Abdullah Otayf, in his last appearance in the blue shirt, made it three with ten minutes remaining. Two late goals from the visitors showed that there is work to do however.
There are sure to be plenty of changes at the club over the coming weeks. Already head coach Ramon Diaz is back in Argentina and a number of the foreign players look to be on their way out. For now, though, finishing third, winning the King’s Cup and reaching the final of both the Asian Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup finals will have to do. For most clubs, that would be seen as quite a season but Hilal, who are now able to sign players after being banned from doing so in the past two transfer windows, are going to go again.
Al-Shabab, who once looked like they were the team to beat for the title, ended a run of five defeats in six with a 4-1 win over Damac. Aaron Boupendza signed off with all four. There should also be praise given to Al-Taawoun who won their last six games, including against the new champions, to finish fifth, just a point behind.
While everything at the top had been settled there was still the issue of which team will join Al-Batin in the second tier next season. Al-Adalah and Al-Khaleej had been finding their form of late to leave Al-Fayha looking nervously over their shoulders. In the second half, Al-Khaleej looked to be heading down as they were a man down and drawing 1-1 at home to Abha but then Morato intervened to score twice to give three points and another season in the top flight. Al-Adalah dropped.
It has been a season to remember and it will take time to digest everything that has happened. Not much can be said about next season but there are going to be a lot of changes in the next few weeks. A thrilling season is going to be followed by a busy summer.