Mitrovic to the rescue for Al-Hilal side missing Neymar’s firepower

Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal was enough give Hilal the victory. (Al-Hilal)
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Updated 21 October 2023

Mitrovic to the rescue for Al-Hilal side missing Neymar’s firepower

  • With the Brazilian out through injury for the foreseeable future, his teammates rally to a 1-0 home victory over Al-Khaleej that moves them three points clear at the top of the league
  • Al-Hilal receive boost as closest title rivals Al-Taawoun and Al-Ittihad draw 1-1, but after taking the lead struggle to put the game to bed with a second goal

RIYADH: Al-Hilal this week lost Neymar to injury for the foreseeable future but at least they still have the formidable goal power of Aleksandar Mitrovic to count on.

And that proved to be enough for a 1-0 home victory over Al-Khaleej on Friday night that extended their lead at the top of the table to three points after the 10th game of the season.

Fans in Riyadh and Rio have been coming to terms with the distressing sight of Neymar being carried off the pitch during Brazil’s World Cup qualifier against Uruguay on Tuesday and the subsequent news that he requires surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Banners flew in the stands on Friday bearing the player’s image and the message “Return Stronger.”

If his team can maintain their winning ways so far this season, when he does return it could well be to a squad of champions. Boosted by the good news that closest title rivals Al-Taawoun and Al-Ittihad had drawn 1-1 in their match earlier in the evening, Al-Hilal knew that victory would move them three points clear at the top — and that is exactly what happened.

They went on the attack from the get-go. In the 14th minute, Malcom pushed the ball past the goalkeeper and it was rolling toward the net, but a sprinting Saeed Al-Hamsal just managed to get his body in the way. Soon after, Ruben Neves sent over a cross, only for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to head just wide.

In the end, it took the 18-time champions 30 minutes to break the deadlock with what was a typical goal from Serbian striker Mitrovic. A corner kick hung high and long in the air as it flew toward the far post. Goalkeeper Marwan Al-Haidari came off his line but could not get to it, and Mitrovic sent a looping header into the net.

Just before the break, the former Fulham forward sent a similar header, this time from a Michael cross, just over the bar, and the first half ended with Malcom missing a good close-range opportunity.

The second half continued in much the same vein, with even more attacks from Al-Hilal. Neves shot wide from a great position inside the area and then, just after the hour mark, Mitrovic showed his aerial prowess once more, but his powerful downward header drew a fine save from Al-Haidari.

Despite several more attempts, a second goal would just not come. Then, with 15 minutes remaining, the ball somehow found its way into the back of the net after Salem Al-Dawsari slid in at the right byline and guided the ball home, with the help of a deflection off the goalkeeper. However, the ball was adjudged to have gone out of play and the goal did not stand.

Al-Hilal might have felt a little frustrated by their inability to categorically put the game to bed with a second goal but, still, the three points were eventually secured, leaving the 18-time champions sitting pretty at the top of the league, albeit with some tough tests to come in the league, and in Asia, which they will have to face without Neymar.

Al-Hilal crowned Roshn Saudi League champions after Al-Hazem rout

Updated 11 May 2024

Al-Hilal crowned Roshn Saudi League champions after Al-Hazem rout

  • The 4-1 win at Kingdom Arena means the Riyadh giants have now extended their Saudi Pro League record to 19 championships

RIYADH: Al-Hilal wrapped up the Roshn Saudi League title with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Al-Hazem on Saturday at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh.

The victory means that Al-Hilal have now extended their Saudi Pro League record to 19 championships.

Al-Nassr’s 3-2 win over Al-Okhdood on Thursday had delayed Al-Hilal’s coronation for two days at least, but Jorge Jesus and his men knew a win or draw against Al-Hazem would be enough to clinch the title.

Serbian forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, one of the signings of the season, got the party underway with a penalty after 15 minutes but, with nine minutes of the first half left, an unscripted moment saw Faiz Selemani score with a fine left-foot strike after being put through on goal.

Al-Hazem’s joy did not last long however, with Ahmed Al-Juwaid gifting Al-Hilal the lead five minutes later with a bizarre own goal that sailed over goalkeeper Zaid Al-Malki’s head.

The home team scented blood and proceeded to put the result, and the title race, to bed with two goals in first-half added time.

Mitrovic side-footed home from countryman Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s cross from the left in the 48th minute of the half, and the assister turned goalscorer three minutes later to give Al-Hilal a 4-1 lead at the break.

With Al-Hilal fans already in celebratory mood and the title all but confirmed by the break, the second period inevitably saw the home team take their foot off the pedal.

VAR ruled out what would have been Al-Hazem’s second goal in added time and moments later the final whistle went to confirm the championship for Al-Hilal.

Their fans could finally celebrate a title win that had been on the cards for several weeks. 

Al-Hilal has to delay title celebrations as Al-Nassr beats Al-Okhdood

Al-Nassr players celebrate Marcelo Brozovic's late winner against Al-Okhdood. (X/@AlNassrFC_EN)
Updated 10 May 2024

Al-Hilal has to delay title celebrations as Al-Nassr beats Al-Okhdood

  • Marcelo Brozovic’s 91st minute winner means the leaders can wrap a 19th Saudi Pro League championship against Al-Hazem on Saturday

RIYADH: A stoppage-time goal by Marcelo Brozovic secured a 3-2 win for Al-Nassr against gallant Al-Okhdood on Thursday night at Prince Hathloul Stadium, which means a delay for Al-Hilal’s crowning as Saudi Pro League champions.

Al-Nassr had led 2-0 at half time before the home team mounted a spirited second-half comeback to square the match, a result which would have handed the title to leaders Al-Hilal with four matches left.

The win raised the Yellows’ points tally to 77 points, nine behind their Riyadh rivals. Al-Hilal can wrap up a record-extending 19th championship on Saturday night with a win or draw against Al-Hazem in Riyadh.

Al-Nassr took the lead through Brozovic after only seven minutes and a comfortable win was on the cards when Cristiano Ronaldo made it 2-0 only eight minutes later.

However, goals by Hassan Al-Habib on the hour mark and Saviour Goodwin 10 minutes later looked to have earned the 15th-placed team a vital point in their battle against relegation.

In the unlikely event they fail to win against Al-Hazem, Al-Hilal will have another chance on May 17 against Al-Nassr in the Riyadh Derby at Al-Awwal Park Stadium.

Hero Malcom assists and scores as Hilal edge closer to SPL title

Updated 07 May 2024

Hero Malcom assists and scores as Hilal edge closer to SPL title

  • The Brazilian played starring role in the 2-1 Saudi Classico win against Al-Ahli in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Brazilian star Malcolm was the hero for Al-Hilal on Monday night when he managed an assist and a decisive goal in their 2-1 win over Al-Ahli in the latest Saudi Classico in Jeddah.

The match had been postponed from the 28th round of the Saudi Pro League due to Al-Hilal’s AFC Champions League commitments.

Malcolm set up Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic for the equalizer on 52 minutes after Saudi international Firas Al-Buraikan had given Al-Ahli the lead on the half-hour mark at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.

Malcom then brought Al-Hilal within touching distance of a record-extending 19th league title by scoring the winner in the 89th minute.

Al-Hilal signed Malcom on a four-year contract from Zenit St. Petersburg last summer. And with five matches remaining until the end of his first season, he has scored 22 goals for the club, 14 of which have come in the SPL.

Saudi women tackling, kicking their way into football

Updated 03 May 2024

Saudi women tackling, kicking their way into football

  • Ministry of Sports has reported a 150 percent increase in women’s participation  

RIYADH: Women are finding new territories in various industries as the Kingdom sets diversity and inclusion goals, and football is no different. 

There are currently 1,100 female football players registered with Saudi clubs through the leagues, three regional training centers, and four active national teams. 

Today, the Women’s Football Department focuses on various areas of grassroots development, like five upcoming local competitions including the Premier League. 

The head of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Women’s Football Department, Aalia Al-Rasheed, told Arab News: “Today, we’re witnessing with Vision 2030 a whole transformation when it comes to the country in general. The Ministry of Sports reported a 150 percent increase in women’s participation (since 2015). The game is growing everyday."

Left to right: Podcast host Mo Islam, CEO of PepsiCo. Middle East Ahmed El-Sheikh, head of SAFF’s Women’s Football Department Aalia Al-Rasheed, Vice President of SAFF Lamia Bahaian, PepsiCo.’s senior marketing manager Anfal Al-Duhilan, Al-Ittihad’s women’s team head coach Kelly Lindsey, Al-Nassr’s goalkeeper Sara Khalid. (Supplied)

Al-Awwal Park Stadium lit up with fireworks Sunday night as Al-Nassr were crowned champions against Al-Ittihad, ending their season on a high with a 1-0 victory.  

As the 2023-2024 Premier League concludes, the spirit of celebration still lingers in the air. Female trailblazers in the football sector came together on Monday to champion the incredible women of the Kingdom who are breaking boundaries in the realm of football at Hiwar, PepsiCo’s signature annual event for women empowerment.  

In the 2024 Hiwar, hosted in collaboration with the SAFF’s Women’s League, industry drivers spoke about their experiences in pushing the boundaries of women inclusion in the sport, during a panel discussion that evening moderated by Mo Islam, featuring Al-Rasheed alongside Al-Nassr’s goalkeeper Sara Khalid, Al-Ittihad’s women’s team head coach Kelly Lindsey, and PepsiCo.’s senior marketing manager, Anfal Al-Duhilan. 

Khalid, one of the Kingdom’s star female football players, reflected on her team’s first-ever international victory last year, winning the premier league twice in a row, and her current, vivid reality in leading the industry into international territory. 

But when Khalid left her day job to pursue a football career, she knew she had an example to set and responsibility on her back. 

She told Arab News: “Today, I can say I’m one of the first players to represent the national team and my country on an international level, and now with us winning the league and participating in the AFC champion’s league, it’s definitely a huge weight on my shoulders.

“Every decision I have to make must be made thoughtfully and in consideration of everything else, and to always inspire and be inspired by the people around me.”

As a coach, Lindsey said the top struggle is creating equilibrium within a team. Her coaching approach blends physical preparation with cultural understanding, acknowledging the importance of nutrition, sports psychology, and family values within Saudi leagues. 

While some Al-Ittihad team members struggled to even pass the ball five times just last summer, they have now managed to compete in the first level of the Saudi football pyramid.

She commended Saudi Arabia’s massive investment into women’s sports, with the SAFF allocating SR49.9 million ($13 million) to women’s football cross-country programs just last year. 

Lindsey told Arab News: “By investing in sports, women are not only out in society, they are front and center for everyone to watch, judge, and support.  

“The dialogue will change about everything that needs to happen around them so that more women can do their passion, live their passion in work and music and art and culture and sport. It will create a natural dialogue and a push for more infrastructure for women to succeed.”

Last October, this support was bolstered even further as PepsiCo. and the SAFF announced that the multinational’s subsidiary, Lay’s potato chips, will sponsor the 2023-24 Saudi Women’s Premier League.

“Our sponsorship is in alignment with the company’s vision, which is to basically drive diversity and inclusion, aligning with the Saudi 2030 Vision. We wanted to make a difference and really give every single Saudi female the opportunity to pursue her dreams in any field and to continue empowering and supporting them,” said Al-Duhilan.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s sister describes Saudi Arabia as ‘safest place on earth’

Updated 02 May 2024

Cristiano Ronaldo’s sister describes Saudi Arabia as ‘safest place on earth’

  • Katia Aviero posts message on Instagram in which she says of the Kingdom: ‘If there is a safe place to walk alone, it is here’
  • Aviero, who joined her brother’s partner, Georgina Rodriguez, to watch him play in the King’s Cup semifinal on Wednesday adds: ‘Nobody disrespects you here and there are no thefts’

RIYADH: While Al-Nassr star Cristiano Ronaldo was busy scoring a brace on Wednesday in a 3-1 victory over Al-Khaleej that earned his team a place in the King’s Cup final, his sister was praising Saudi Arabia and describing it as the “safest place on earth.”
Asked whether it was safe to walk alone in the Kingdom, Katia Aviero posted a message on Instagram in Portuguese in which she said of the Kingdom: “If there is a safe place to walk alone, it is here.”
She said: “Saudi Arabia is one of the best in the world in terms of safety. You can leave your phone on the table and go and come back without anything happening.”
She added that “nobody disrespects you here and there are no thefts,” and she feels secure at all times.
A Saudi sports website quoted Aviero as saying: “You can also leave your keys and wallet in the car.”
She also posted a photo of herself with Ronaldo’s partner, Georgina Rodriguez, and another women watching the game on Wednesday from a VIP lounge at Al-Awwal Park stadium. She added a note, saying: “We came to give good luck for our king (Cristiano).”
Aviero, who has more than 1.4 million followers on Instagram, also added several posts to her Instagram Story on Wednesday featuring videos of Riyadh streets filmed from inside a car.
Ronaldo scored the first and third goals for Al-Nassr on Wednesday night, with Sadio Mane netting the second from the penalty spot.
The Portuguese star celebrated the semifinal victory with brief message on social media platform X in which he wrote: “The King’s Cup … let’s go.”
Al-Nassr will face fierce rivals Al-Hilal in the final on May 31.