RIYADH: Malcom took center stage with a hat-trick for Al-Hilal in their 3-1 win over Abha in the Blues’ first game of the Roshn Saudi League season.
And on this evidence, the club may not even need Neymar.
Brazilian Malcom, signed from Zenit St. Petersburg in July, scored once in the first half and twice in the second to ensure that the Riyadh giants started their quest to recapture the title with three points.
Elsewhere, champions Al-Ittihad picked up a 3-0 win at Al-Raed.
Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus was denied the services of stars such as Kalidou Koulibaly, Salem Al-Dawsari and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, but his side took the lead after 30 minutes. Abdullah Al-Hamdan released Nasser Al-Dawsari on the left side of the area and the midfielder, with the goalkeeper coming perhaps a little too far off his line, squared the ball to Malcom to slot home.
Within two minutes, though, the hosts were level. The visitors were dispossessed deep inside their own half and Saad Bguir unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top of the Al-Hilal goal from 25 yards out.
Al-Hilal, with Ruben Neves starting to pull the strings in the middle, moved up a level after the break. Ten minutes in, Mohammed Al-Breik passed to Malcom from the right side and the Brazilian twisted in the area and got off a low shot that squirmed through the grasp of the diving Devis Epassy.
There was not much the Cameroon international could have done 13 minutes from time as Al-Hilal sealed the win. The boys in blue passed the ball around on the edge of the area and fed Malcom on the left side of the box who teed himself up with his first touch and then fired home a low volley into the opposite bottom corner with his second.
If it was a great start to the campaign for Al-Hilal, the same can be said of Al-Ittihad whose class eventually told against Al-Raed with all three goals coming in the second half.
With N’Golo Kante lining up in midfield alongside Fabinho, the two having recently signed from Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, and Karim Benzema, Abderrazak Hamdallah, Romarinho and Igor Coronado providing the attacking talent, it was no surprise that Al-Ittihad made most of the running.
The Jeddah giants enjoyed two-thirds of the possession but just could not find a way to penetrate Ahmad Al-Harbi’s goal. Karim Benzema and Romarinho went close while the hosts had a goal ruled out for offside.
The Tigers started to roar after the break. Hamdallah headed a Kante cross at Al-Harbi and while it came back to the Moroccan, he was on the ground and could only steer the ball wide of the post.
Last season’s top scorer made no mistake just before the hour. A tackle from Fabinho in the center circle fed Benzema. The FIFA Ballon d’Or holder found Hamdallah on the left and he cut inside the area, evaded the challenges of two defenders, and then lashed a shot into the net to give Al-Harbi no chance.
Al-Raed almost hit back straight away but Abdullah Al-Fahad’s shot from close range following a free-kick came back off the crossbar.
The champions extended their lead with 18 minutes remaining with Coronado, like Hamdallah, cutting inside from the left and then, from just inside the area, curling a shot into the top corner. Soon after, it was game over. Kante’s fierce shot from the edge of the area was parried into the path of Coronado who made no mistake.
Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal are off and running.