Al-Ittihad all to play for in FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Ittihad all to play for in FIFA Club World Cup
Al-Ittihad, playing on home soil, have much to live up to in terms of Saudi Arabian history in the tournament as well as global expectations. (X: @ittihad)
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Updated 11 December 2023
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Al-Ittihad all to play for in FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Ittihad all to play for in FIFA Club World Cup
  • Expectations high as Saudi team enjoy home advantage
  • Saudi Arabian sides have proud history in tournament

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian teams have a good record in the FIFA Club World Cup but for the first time it will take place on home soil. That gives Al-Ittihad extra support, incentive as well as pressure.

The first Saudi team to participate was Al-Nassr who went to Brazil for the old FIFA Club World Championship. In a tough group, the Riyadh team finished third, losing to Real Madrid, beating Raja Casablanca, and then going down to local team Corinthians.

Al-Ittihad played at the first tournament in its current format in 2005 as they went to Japan as Asian champions.

It started with a 1-0 win over Al-Ahly (the Egyptians lay in wait on Friday, assuming Al-Ittihad beat Auckland City on Tuesday). On a cold Japanese evening, talismanic midfielder Mohammed Noor got the only goal of the game with 12 minutes remaining, getting to a cross before goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary and then belting the loose ball home from close range.

That was enough to book a semi-final against Sao Paulo. It was always going to be difficult against the South American champions and in front of more than 30,000 fans in Tokyo, Al-Ittihad gave it a real good go. Most of the crowd were there to support the Brazilians but the Saudis got a standing ovation at the end.

It was 1-1 at the break as Amoroso put Sao Paulo ahead before Noor equalized. Amoroso and then Rogerio Ceni, the highest-scoring goalkeeper in the history of football, netted from the penalty spot.

Asian player of the year Hamad Al-Montashari made it 3-2 midway through the second half to set up an exciting finish but Al-Ittihad just could not get the equalizer and then went on to lose to Costa Rica’s Saprissa in the third and fourth place play-off by the same 3-2 margin.

Saudi Arabia then had to wait until 2019 for their next appearance as Al-Hilal ended the drought in the Asian Champions League by defeating Urawa Reds of Japan. In many ways for Saudi Arabia, the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup was a mirror of what happened in 2005, though it took place in Qatar and not Japan.

It started with a 1-0 win over the African champions, this time Esperance de Tunis. Bafetimbi Gomis got the all-important goal. That earned a semi-final against a giant from Brazil. Salem Al-Dawsari put the Blues ahead to send thousands of fans in Doha wild with delight. But it was not to last as Flamengo hit back to win 3-1. The Riyadh giants outshot the South Americans but just could not get the goal needed.

That meant a match for third place with Monterrey. After the game ended 2-2, with Carlos Eduardo and Gomis scoring, it went to penalties with the Mexican team winning 4-3. Eduardo and Mohammed Kanno failed to convert.

It once again demonstrated that Saudi Arabian teams could compete on the global stage and Al-Hilal had another chance in 2021 in a tournament.

That started with a 6-1 thrashing of hosts Al-Jazira of the UAE. There was plenty of attacking talent on display on that day in Abu Dhabi with Odion Ighalo, Matheus Pereira, Kanno, Al-Dawsari, Moussa Marega, and Andre Carrillo all getting on the scoresheet.

Instead of South American semi-final opposition, the Blues of Riyadh faced the Blues of London. Chelsea ended up winning 1-0 but it was a fine performance from Al-Hilal who more than matched the European champions. Romelu Lukaku scored just after the half-hour.

If that was impressive, the match for third place was a disaster and it ended in a 4-0 loss to Al-Ahly. By the half-hour mark, Al-Hilal were two goals down and two men down as Pereira and Kanno were dismissed. Also dismissed soon after was head coach Leonardo Jardim. It was a low point but under his replacement Ramon Diaz, the team then went on a winning spree at home and won an unlikely league title.

Al-Hilal were back for the 2022 edition held in 2023, to deliver a truly memorable performance.

In February, it started with a tricky game against African champions Wydad Casablanca, in front of 44,000 fans in Rabat. It was a fighting display. Going a goal behind early in the second half, Al-Hilal looked to be on their way out. Yet, with seconds remaining Kanno scored to take the game into extra time and almost as soon as it started, the midfielder was sent off.

Despite that, the Saudi Arabians took the game to penalties when young midfielder Musab Al-Juwayr scored the decisive penalty.

Then came the usual semi-final against Brazilian royalty but this time the result was anything but usual. Al-Hilal won 3-2 against Flamengo. Al-Dawsari scored twice from the spot in the first half, a brace that sandwiched a Pedro goal. Luciano Vietto then extended the Asian champions’ lead with 20 minutes remaining and they held out for a famous 3-2 win.

That earned a first Saudi Arabian final against Real Madrid when Al-Hilal gave as good as they got, losing 5-3 in a wildly entertaining game against the mighty European champions.

It meant that Al-Hilal returned home with their heads held high –though it came at a cost in terms of fatigue in their later domestic form.

Just three months after Saudi Arabia’s World Cup win over Argentina, it showed once more that the country was a football force. There has been more attention since with all the big-name signings and headlines.

It means that Al-Ittihad, playing on home soil, have much to live up to in terms of Saudi Arabian history in the tournament as well as global expectations.


Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain

Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain
Updated 18 April 2024
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Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain

Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain
  • Morocco striker Soufiane Rahimi was the star of the show after he scored a first-half hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Al-Ain in their semifinal first leg
  • Al-Hilal, the four-time Asian champions, last failed to win a game in September last year when they drew a Saudi Pro League match

AL-AIN: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal saw their record run of 34 successive victories end on Wednesday at the hands of UAE’s Al-Ain in the Asian Champions League.
Morocco striker Soufiane Rahimi was the star of the show after he scored a first-half hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Al-Ain in their semifinal first leg.
Al-Hilal, the four-time Asian champions, last failed to win a game in September last year when they drew a Saudi Pro League match.
Wednesday’s game had been postponed 24 hours after torrential rain swamped the UAE and the record-setting Saudis must have wished it had kept raining.
Rahimi opened the scoring after just six minutes from a pass by Yahia Nader and added a second from the penalty spot 20 minutes later after he was brought down by goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais who was yellow carded for his troubles.
Rahimi completed his hat-trick in the 40th minute, again from a penalty after Ali Al-Bulayhi chopped down Brazilian defender Erik in the area.
Al-Hilal reduced the deficit early in the second period when Malcom scored from a pass by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
However, the Saudis conceded yet another penalty just before the hour mark with Kalidou Koulibaly bringing down Rahimi.
This time Paraguayan star Alejandro Romero took over spot-kick duties to make it 4-1 for Al-Ain, the inaugural winners of the Asian Champions League in 2003.
Salem Al-Dawsari kept Al-Hilal in the tie ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg by scoring his team’s second goal of the night in the 78th minute.
Earlier Wednesday, South Korea’s Ulsan claimed a slender lead in their semifinal with a 1-0 first leg win over Japan’s Yokohama F-Marinos.


Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener
  • The Green Falcons lead Group C on goal difference as Thailand beat Iraq

DOHA: Saudi Arabia kicked off their 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup campaign in style with a 4-2 win over Tajikistan on Tuesday at Khalifa International Stadium in Al-Rayyan.

In the other Group C match, Thailand defeated Iraq 2-0 at Al-Janoub in Al-Wakrah.

The Green Falcons now have three points and lead their group ahead of Thailand on goal difference. Tajikistan and Iraq are third and fourth respectively with zero points.

Saudi Arabia took the lead on seven minutes through Rayane Hamidou, but Tajikistan struck back through Ruslan Khayloev after 23 minutes. Deep into stoppage time at the end of the first period, Saudi regained the advantage thanks to Haitham Asiri.

Saad Al-Shehri’s men looked to have put the game to bed with goals by Ayman Yahya on 55 and 61 minutes, before Rustam Soirov gave Tajikistan a glimmer of hope nine minutes later to make it 4-2.

Earlier in the day, Japan beat China 1-0 in the opening match in Group B at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, before South Korea defeated the UAE team at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.

Saudi Arabia’s next game is against Thailand on Friday. They will then face Iraq on April 22. 

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, which sees 16 nations split into four groups of four, also acts as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

The top two teams from each group progress to the quarterfinals, with the winners of both semifinals automatically qualifying for the Olympics.

The losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winner also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance to secure a place at the Games through a play-off against an African qualifier.


Al-Hilal shifts focus to the Asian Champions League semifinals as it continues a four-title bid

Al-Hilal shifts focus to the Asian Champions League semifinals as it continues a four-title bid
Updated 16 April 2024
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Al-Hilal shifts focus to the Asian Champions League semifinals as it continues a four-title bid

Al-Hilal shifts focus to the Asian Champions League semifinals as it continues a four-title bid
  • Al-Hilal are in contention for an unprecedented collection of four titles

DUBAI: The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema haven’t been able to halt Al-Hilal’s dominant run in Saudi Arabia’s domestic football league. Now it’s the turn of Al-Ain of the UAE to come up against this seemingly unstoppable force in the semifinals of the Asian Champions League.

Al-Hilal are in contention for an unprecedented collection of four titles. The first trophy was secured last week when Malcom scored twice for the club in a 4-1 win over Al-Ittihad in the Saudi Super Cup final. With seven games in the Saudi Pro League remaining, the Blues are 12 points clear of Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr.

On April 30, the Riyadh-based club will meet Al-Ittihad of Jeddah in the semifinals of the King’s Cup, a domestic knockout competition.

Al-Hilal also have their sights set on a record fifth continental title, though is expecting a challenge Tuesday against the Hernan Crespo coached Al-Ain, the 2003 champions who ousted Al-Nassr in the Asian Champions League quarterfinals.

“We have only won one trophy and there are three more to go for,” defender Ali Al-Bulaihi told Saudi Arabian TV ahead of the continental semifinals. “Al-Hilal is a system and everyone at the club from the bottom to the top works hard and this is the reason for success. We are not afraid of any team and we are ready for any challenge.”

Despite being without injured striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, the joint leading scorer in this season’s Asian Champions League, and Brazilian superstar Neymar, Al-Hilal are still in great form. The Super Cup victory over Ittihad extended their world record winning streak for top tier teams to 34 games.

While Al-Hilal is strongly favored to overcome Al-Ain and progress to next month’s final, the meeting in the eastern zone — Asia’s top continental club tournament is divided into two geographic halves until the final — appears closer to call.

The eastern zone playoff is between last season’s champion of South Korea and Japan’s runner-up as Ulsan HD, Asian champions in 2012 and 2022, welcomes Yokohama F. Marinos.

Five-time Japanese champion Yokohama has never reached this stage in Asia before, even under successful coaches Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat.

Harry Kewell is the third successive Australian coach at the club and is hoping to take Yokohama all the way.

“It’s important to understand when I first came into the job it was always going to be a quick turnaround for us because of the AFC Champions League games that were coming up,” Kewell, appointed in December, said. “The attitude of the players has been excellent — the willingness from them to learn a slightly new style.”

“It’s been quite easy to implement my ideas,” added Kewell, who won the UEFA Champions League as a player with Liverpool in 2005. “They’ve accepted it and they’ve worked very hard in perfecting them throughout the games.”

Yokohama will host Ulsan in the return leg of the semifinals on April 24, a day after Al-Hilal takes on Al-Ain in Saudi Arabia.


Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player

Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player

Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player
  • Incident took place at the end of Al-Ittihad’s defeat by Al-Hilal in the Saudi Super Cup in Abu Dhabi
  • Footage shows Al-Ittihad striker Abderrazak Hamdallah throw water at a fan, who then strikes the player twice with what looks like a whip

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) is to review its spectator code of conduct after a supporter appeared to whip an Al-Ittihad player.

The incident took place at the end of Al-Ittihad’s defeat by Al-Hilal in the Saudi Super Cup in Abu Dhabi.

Footage that circulated on social media showed Al-Ittihad striker Abderrazak Hamdallah throw water at a fan, who then struck the player twice with what looked like a whip.

Moroccan Hamdallah scored for his side as they lost 4-1.

The SAFF said it was “shocked with the disgraceful scenes.”

A statement released by SAFF said: “Football in Saudi Arabia is a family game and, thankfully, fan disorder is extremely rare.”

It continued: “It’s why the actions of this ‘so called’ fan go against all that Saudi football represents and we completely condemn the incident.

“There will be a thorough review of the spectator code of conduct. The review will ensure updated rules and regulations are put in place to swiftly and effectively impose suitable penalties to help avoid any repeat of such incidents.”


Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup

Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup
Updated 12 April 2024
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Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup

Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup
  • “It was a difficult game and I am very happy to score two goals,” Malcom told Saudi television

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: Al-Hilal beat Al-Ittihad 4-1 in the final of the Saudi Super Cup on Thursday to stay on course for an unprecedented quadruple.
The trophy, lifted in Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, is the first of the season for the Riyadh giant but is unlikely to be the last as the team is also 12 points clear of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr at the top of the Saudi Pro League with just seven games remaining.
Al-Hilal, also in the semifinal of the Asian Champions League and the Saudi King’s Cup, has also expanded its world record winning streak for top-tier teams to 34 consecutive games in all competitions.
Three days after defeating Al-Nassr in the semifinal, during which Ronaldo was sent off for elbowing Ali Al-Bulaihi, two goals from Brazilian winger Malcom did the damage for Al-Hilal. Salem Al-Dawsari and Nasser Al-Dawsari sealed the win with late goals.
“It was a difficult game and I am very happy to score two goals,” Malcom told Saudi television. “We are also happy to collect our first title of the season but we are chasing more trophies.”
Ittihad striker Karim Benzema, signed from Real Madrid last summer, was unable to find the target while colleague Abderrazak Hamdallah made up for missing a penalty by getting on the scoresheet.
The Moroccan forward featured in a controversial incident at the end of the match, however, as he seemed to get involved in an altercation with a fan standing close to the field. The supporter was led away by security personnel.
In 2023, the Super Cup was expanded from a single game between the league champion and King’s Cup winner to include the runners-up from both competitions. It was also moved to Abu Dhabi.
Al-Hilal returns to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to take on Al-Ain in the first leg of the Asian Champions League semifinals as it seeks a record fifth continental title.
The club’s potentially record-breaking season comes after it spent about 350 million euros ($380 million) on player transfers after being taken over by the Saudi sovereign wealth operation, the Public Investment Fund which is controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.