JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad continued an impressive week of sport for Jeddah with a 4-2 win over Al-Khaleej on Thursday to give new coach Marcelo Gallardo his first Roshn Saudi League victory following his appointment earlier in the month.
It makes it two wins out of two in the space of four days for the Argentine coach who saw the Tigers book a spot in the knockout stages of the Champions League on Monday with a win over AGMK of Uzbekistan.
This was just as important, although it did not actually take place in the Red Sea port at all. With state-of-the-art boats from around the world thrilling sailing fans at the Jeddah Yacht Club on the Corniche, Ferrari spending time in the city, and the ATP Next Gen tennis tournament at King Abdullah Sports City, the game with Khaleej was moved to the King Abdulaziz Stadium in nearby Makkah.
Those who made the journey were soon celebrating as Igor Coronado opened the scoring after just nine minutes, the goal coming after great approach play from Karim Benzema.
The former Real Madrid marksman picked up possession just inside the opponents’ half and sped off into the distance. The Frenchman was well inside the penalty area when his shot was blocked, the loose ball falling to Coronado who converted from close range.
The lead should have been doubled after 12 minutes with Benzema coming close to finishing a slick move, only for his shot to come back off the post with the goalkeeper nowhere.
Soon after, Fabinho was marauding into the danger area but the former Liverpool midfielder was unable to get his shot away.
Just before the half hour, Ittihad claimed a handball by Abdullah Al-Shanqiti. The video assistant agreed and Benzema stepped up to roll the ball home from the spot for his ninth league goal of the season.
The former Ballon d’Or winner, who seemed to have picked up an injury, was then substituted, limping off the pitch on which he had contributed so much despite the short space of time.
There will be concerns given that Al-Ittihad are taking part in the FIFA Club World Cup in less than two weeks’ time.
Just before the break, Khaleej were awarded their own penalty after Mansour Hamzi went down following a challenge from Marcelo Grohe, Khaled Narey making no mistake from the spot after the referee had viewed the monitor.
There was another visit to the monitor on the hour as Abderrazak Hamdallah went down in the middle of four defenders just inside the area. For the third time in the evening, the kick was given, and for the third time it was converted. Hamdallah took over Benzema’s duties and the two-goal cushion was restored, though goalkeeper Marwan Al-Haidari got a hand to it.
There was not much he could do 16 minutes from the end, though, when substitute Zakaria Al-Hawsawi cut in from the left, feinted past one defender and skipped away from two more before driving a low shot into the bottom corner.
The visitors did grab another before the end, but a flying volley from Fawaz Al-Terais was too little, too late.
This was another good win for Al-Ittihad and another triumph for Jeddah.
Earlier in the day, Alhi picked up their biggest win of the season as they thrashed Abha 6-0. Gabri Veiga and Firas Al-Buraikan scored two each while Franck Kessie and Riyad Mahrez bagged one apiece.
The result keeps Al-Ahli in third, four points behind Al-Nassr in second and eight behind the leaders Al-Hilal, with the top two meeting in the eagerly awaited Riyadh derby on Friday.