Magic Mitrovic leads the way as Al-Hilal stage stunning Classico comeback win over Ittihad

Aleksandar Mitrovic grabbed a hat-trick. (AFP)
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Updated 02 September 2023

Magic Mitrovic leads the way as Al-Hilal stage stunning Classico comeback win over Ittihad

  • Three goals in 10 second-half minutes turned the tide as the Riyadh side came from 3-1 down to win 4-3 and ending Al-Ittithad’s perfect start to the season
  • Along the way, Mitrovic grabbed a hat trick against the defending champions, who had not conceded a single goal in their first four games this season

The football history books will record that Al-Hilal won 4-3 at Al-Ittihad on Friday but there was a great deal more to this seven-goal thriller than just that final result.

With two thirds of the Classico gone, Al-Ittihad appeared to be cruising to victory with a 3-1 lead, and headed for a fifth win out of five this season. But then, incredibly, the defending champions who had not conceded a single goal in the first four games in the Roshn Saudi League, conceded three in the space of 10 minutes. Along the way, Aleksandar Mitrovic grabbed a hat trick that played a big part in securing the three points for the Riyadh side. It was a stunning comeback and result.

It means that Al-Ittihad coach Nuno Santo has yet to record a victory in five games against the Blues, and that Al-Hilal go top of the league, at least for 24 hours until Al-Ahli, the only remaining team with a perfect record, head to Al-Fateh on Saturday. Whatever happens then, it is unlikely to be as good a game as this one was.

Al-Ittihad took the lead after 16 minutes. Abderrazak Hamdallah slipped the ball through to Romarinho on the left side and the Brazilian found the net, as keeper Yassine Bounou finally conceded his first goal since arriving in Saudi Arabia from Sevilla.

Then, four minutes later, Marcelo Grohe let in his first of the season when Al-Hilal equalized through an outrageous strike from Mitrovic. A cross from the right from the impressive Saud Abdulhamid found the Serbian inside the area but he still had a huge amount to do. Mitrovic was moving away from goal to the left of the penalty spot but met the ball with a delightful right-footed volley that flew into the top corner to give the keeper no chance.

Both teams pushed forward trying to get the all-important next goal and when it came it was delivered by Karim Benzema. The French striker limped off the pitch during Monday’s 3-0 win at Al-Wehda but had recovered from the muscle injury well enough to restore the Tigers’ lead seven minutes before the break with another memorable strike. Ahmed Bamsaud, who had possession on the left byline in a crowded area, managed to thread the ball through to the former Real Madrid man on the near post, who flicked it home with the back of his right boot and outfox Bounou.

There was still time in the first half for the hosts to extend their lead, as Hamdallah got in on the act in the eighth minute of added time. It was the result of a major mistake from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who had possession inside his own area but as he ran toward the byline he turned and cleared only as far as the Moroccan marksman, standing just a few meters away. Hamdallah fired home.

It was no surprise that Al-Hilal made most of the running early in the second half as they tried to get back into the game, though the hosts looked dangerous on the counter, with Bounou saving well from Benzema. The next goal was going be crucial, either in putting the game to bed or blowing it wide open.

On the hour mark, it proved to be the latter outcome. That man Abdulhamid once again floated a cross towards Mitrovic at the far post, and while his header from close range was spectacularly saved by Grohe, the former Fulham man bundled home the rebound. Suddenly it was 3-2, with all to play for.

Just two minutes later, lively substitute Michael was fouled in the area and up stepped Mitrovic to level what was proving to be a roller coaster of a game.

The hosts were shell-shocked and things got even worse for them after 70 minutes. Abdulhamid picked out a run by Milinkovic-Savic on the left side of the area and the Serbian’s header into the six-yard box was met by Salem Al-Dawsari, who fired home and then treated the traveling support to his famous somersaults.

Al-Ittihad’s players must have been feeling just as dizzy by then and they threw everything they could forward in an attempt to get back on level terms. Bounou might have been beaten three times in the first half but the Moroccan was in fine form in the second to keep the home side out.

In the end, after a generous 12 minutes of added time, Al-Hilal took the win in a game that will never be forgotten by anyone who witnessed it.

Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles

Updated 25 May 2024

Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles

  • Mitrovic: ‘I’m really happy. My family is happy. The club is amazing. So far, it’s a great experience’
  • ‘A lot of players from Europe call and ask how can they get here’

LONDON: Football stars Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ruben Neves have praised their moves to the Saudi Pro League, speaking highly of their new lives in the Kingdom.

In an interview with Sky News, the two Al-Hilal players — who left Fulham and Wolves, respectively — discussed the lifestyle differences between England and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, more than 23 European players moved to the Kingdom’s top football league in a major coup for Saudi sporting administrators.

“After seven years in England I think the first thing was the sun. I never had summer sun in my life,” Mitrovic said.

“It’s been different you know, different culture, different football, the mentality of people as well, but so far I’m really happy.

“My family is happy. The club is amazing. So far, it’s a great experience and looking forward to more years.”

The Serbian international praised the privacy and laid-back way of life in Riyadh. “The people here are crazy about football but you have a bit more privacy here. We live on a compound, we’re a little bit more isolated, and people from Europe and around the world live there you know, the life is really nice,” he said. “You wake up, have breakfast, a little workout, then recovery in the pool in the sun.”

One difference from the European training standard is that clubs in the Kingdom train in the evening, avoiding the midday heat.

Neves told Sky News that Al-Hilal’s regime gives him more time to spend with his family. “It’s a bit different to the routine from Europe here because of the weather, of course,” he said.

Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves, center, says that Al-Hilal’s regime gives him more time to spend with his family. (AFP)

“We train most of the time after 6 p.m. I like it because I can spend the day at home relaxing. I can take the kids to school, I can pick them up from school, and I can be a little bit with them before I come to training. We have a lot of things to do here because it’s a big, massive city, so we are enjoying it.”

Though both players said the Premier League is the world’s best, they believe that the SPL is not far behind — and is on par with some European leagues.

Mitrovic expects more major European signings during the summer transfer window this year.

“Any of the big names is going to have a big impact and would be welcomed with open hands,” he said.

“A lot of players from Europe, you know they call and ask how can they get here. A lot (of calls), trust me.”

Neves hailed the dedication of Al-Hilal fans. “When you play at home the stadium is always full, 30,000 people. The difference I felt here from England is that when we go to play away the stadium is mainly our fans,” he said. “We have fans all around Saudi, so that feels really good for us.”

Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

Updated 24 May 2024

Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

RIYADH: Saudi national team boss Roberto Mancini announced the 31-player list in preparation for the fifth and sixth games of the 2026 World Cup and the 2027 Asian Cup qualifiers.

The Green Falcons will play Pakistan on June 6 in Islamabad and host Jordan on June 11 in Riyadh.

A preparation camp will be held in Riyadh next Thursday, except for Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr players, who will join their teammates on June 2, after the King’s Cup final between the two Riyadh giants.

Saudi National Team Squad for World Cup & Asian Cup Qualifiers

Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Ahmed Al-Kassar, Raghed Najjar, Mohammed Al-Yami, and Mohammed Al-Absi.

Defenders: Mutib Al-Harbi, Hassan Kadesh, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Aoun Al-Saluli, Ali Lagami, Hassan Al-Tumbakti, Saud Abdulhamid, and Mohammed Al-Buraik.

Midfielders: Mukhtar Ali, Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Musab Al-Juwair, Mohammed Kanno, Rayan Hamed, Sultan Al-Ghannam, Nasser Al-Dawsari, Faisal Al-Ghamdi, and Abbas Al-Hassan.

Attackers: Salem Al-Dawsari, Sami Al-Najai, Ayman Yahya, Marwan Al-Sahafi, Abdulrahman Gharib, Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, Abdullah Radif, Abdullah Al-Hamdan, and Firas Al-Burikan.

Al-Nassr’s Sultan Al-Ghannam returns to the squad after he and five other Saudi internationals were hit with punishments for disciplinary violations before the AFC Asian Cup held in Qatar.

The wing-back took to X and said he was happy to return to the squad.

“Representing the national team is an unparalleled honor. I thank those in charge of the team, including the administrative and technical bodies, and I hope that I, along with the rest of my teammates, will provide a level that is worthy of the reputation of Saudi football,” he added.

Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries

Updated 23 May 2024

Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries

  • They will collaborate on ways to achieve sustainable growth of the sport, enhance the standard of football, and facilitate exchange of expertise between players and coaches
  • The agreement also includes plans for talent-discovery networks, cultural-exchange events, and friendly matches between Japanese and Saudi clubs

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League and Japan’s Professional Football League have signed an agreement to cooperate on ways to develop the sport in both countries.

To achieve this they will work with teams in both leagues and collaborate on ways to achieve sustainable growth of the sport, enhance the standard of football, facilitate the exchange of experiences and resources between players and coaches, and establish an effective system for communication about technical and administrative matters.

The agreement was signed on the sidelines of a Saudi-Japanese business forum by the vice chair of the SPL’s board of directors, Saad Allazeez, and Yoshokaze Ninomura of the J.League.

Allazeez said the agreement reflects the SPL’s transformation strategy and added: “This partnership will open new horizons for exchanging experiences and promoting the continuous development in the field of football between the two countries.

“We look forward to working with our counterparts in Japan to raise the level of the game at all levels.”

The agreement also includes support for the continued growth and development of SPL and J.League through workshops and conferences to consider ideas for strengthening football infrastructure, cooperation in talent-discovery networks to help identify and nurture stars of the future, cultural-exchange events that celebrate the diverse cultures of the two countries and enhance the global appeal of football, and friendly matches between Japanese and Saudi clubs.

‘September or October’: Al-Hilal coach reveals timeline for Neymar’s return to action

Neymar could be back in action in 'September or October' according to Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus. (File/Getty Images)
Updated 22 May 2024

‘September or October’: Al-Hilal coach reveals timeline for Neymar’s return to action

  • No. 10 is at ‘a crucial phase’ in his injury recovery, says the Roshn Saudi League champions’ manager Jorge Jesus
  • Al-Hilal teammate Kalidou Koulibaly is eagerly awaiting the return of Neymar: ‘I call him the magician because he has so much magic in his feet’

RIYADH: Neymar is working to make his comeback from injury in the first few months of next season, Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus has revealed.
The Brazilian superstar playmaker, a record signing for Al-Hilal last summer, suffered a season-ending cruciate ligament injury while on international duty in October.
Neymar, however, was a big part of Al-Hilal’s recent Roshn Saudi League title celebrations in Riyadh and declared himself as “feeling good” and “impatient to be back on the pitch.”
With the No. 10’s rehabilitation in full swing, Jesus is eagerly anticipating having the world-class attacker back in his plans for the upcoming campaign.
“He’s currently in a crucial phase of treatment, and we’re hopeful he might be ready to rejoin the team and start practicing by September or October,” Jesus said. “He’s a star player, he possesses exceptional talent. Unfortunately, I can’t provide a definitive answer at this point. Injuries like Neymar’s typically require 10 to 12 months for recovery.”
As someone who knows exactly what it is like to both play with and against Neymar, his Al-Hilal teammate Kalidou Koulibaly will be delighted to have the 32-year-old back in action. The Senegalese defender, a key part of the club’s world record-winning run earlier in the campaign, believes the re-addition of Neymar will only make Al-Hilal even better next season — as well as himself.
“It will be really important. Neymar is a really important player for us. I call him the ‘Magia’ — magician — because he has so much magic in his feet,” Koulibaly said. “When he touches the ball, he is incredible. We are waiting for him to be fit and to play with us and to make us happy and to make the supporters happy. Also to play with him — to play with someone of that level — you can only increase your own level and become better. Neymar is really important for us, and I hope that next year he will play all season and that we can win some trophies with him.”
Speaking at the recent title celebrations following Al-Hilal’s 4-1 victory over Al-Hazem, which clinched the Riyadh club’s 19th Saudi Arabian league crown, Neymar said: “I am very happy obviously. Winning titles is always good. The best thing would have been being on the pitch, but I am so happy for my teammates.
“I am fine. I am feeling good. I am impatient to be back on the pitch. The fans are unbelievable. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to give them the happiness they deserve, but you can be sure that next season we are going to have a lot of fun.”
Unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal clinched the Roshn Saudi League title with three matches to spare and have won 29 of their 32 games thus far. Nearest challengers Al-Nassr, who are captained by Cristiano Ronaldo, are 12 points behind. Al-Hilal’s next match is at home to Al-Tai on Thursday in the Roshn Saudi League.
Al-Hilal created top-flight world football history this season by winning 34 matches in succession between September and April across all competitions. The incredible run saw them overtake Welsh club The New Saints’ winning streak of 27 games in season 2016-17. Prior to that, the record stood for 44 years following Dutch giants Ajax’s 26-game winning stretch between 1971 and 1972.

Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh

Updated 22 May 2024

Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh

  • Al-Shabab defeated Najmat Jeddah in the final to earn their second futsal title
  • The national tournament featured 18 women’s teams from across the Kingdom in the knock-out tournament from May 8-20

RIYADH: After a sensational 25-match tournament that saw 339 goals, Al-Shabab FC captured their second women’s futsal title on Monday in thrilling fashion to conclude the 2024 edition of the Women’s Futsal Tournament.

With 18 of Saudi Arabia’s top women’s futsal sides competing in the second edition of the tournament, the final saw goals galore as Al-Shabab ran out winners, beating Najmat Jeddah 22-2 in the final to earn their second domestic honor.

The competition aims to inspire the growth of women’s futsal in the Kingdom, with the Saudi National Women’s Futsal team set to meet later this month in Bosnia for a training camp until June 15.

Aalia Al-Rasheed, head of the Women’s Football Department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said: “The Women’s Futsal Tournament has demonstrated the incredible talent that lies within the women’s game in Saudi Arabia. The skill on display has been remarkable, and we congratulate all clubs for their participation in the competition.

“The unprecedented growth we are seeing in the women’s game across all levels is exciting, and we look forward to seeing how this supports our national program to continue to develop in the coming months.”