RIYADH: The endless line of cars, thousands of people walking the streets dressed in yellow as well as blue, and the Friday night lights beaming out of King Fahd International Stadium could only mean one thing: the Riyadh derby, the most eagerly awaited in years.
Most of the cars heading back home were filled with happy fans as Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr 3-0 thanks to a second-half header from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and two goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic.
It was a deserved win, although with a slightly flattering scoreline, that sent the victors, still unbeaten, seven points clear at the top, above their beaten rivals.
It was not a classic by any means, and it was tight and tense right until the last few minutes when Mitrovic bagged his brace.
Any meeting between Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr is always a huge game but the Saudi Arabian capital was throbbing with anticipation ahead of this meeting as it had a little extra: It marked the halfway point of the season, it saw the top two teams in the Roshn Saudi League, and it showcased a whole host of stars, both international and domestic.
The three points were more important, though. Al-Hilal knew that a win would give them, a team with 18 domestic championships under their belt, a huge advantage going into the second half of the season. Al-Nassr were desperate to close the gap to a single point.
Al-Hilal should have been ahead early on. After just 120 seconds, Mitrovic made room for himself on the left side of the area but pulled his shot just wide. Then it was the turn of Salem Al-Dawsari to go close on a couple of occasions.
Yet it was not a complete blue wave. As the home fans booed Cristiano Ronaldo, Anderson Talisca, with his back to goal, lifted the ball over his own head, his lob being just a little too high. It would have been a goal-of-the-season contender.
Four minutes later, Nawaf Al-Aqidi’s clearance was blocked by Mitrovic and fell to Michael whose tame shot was gratefully gathered by the goalkeeper.
Ronaldo’s first real sight of goal came midway through the first half, a low shot on the run that was comfortably saved by Yassine Bounou.
The rest of the half was a tighter affair with neither team really able to create the chances needed. It all became a little niggly with fouls, free-kicks and yellow cards.
The period ended in controversy with Al-Nassr appealing for a penalty after Seko Fofana went down under a Kalidou Koulibaly challenge, but neither referee nor video assistant was interested.
Defenses again had the upper hand after the break and the final pass was not quite good enough to produce the breakthrough.
That is, until the 64th minute when Milinkovic-Savic, from near the penalty spot, headed home into the bottom right corner past the outstretched hand of Al-Aqidi.
It brought the fans and the game to life. Ronaldo told his teammates to stay calm and focused and, soon after, his low shot flew just outside the near post.
With 17 minutes remaining, he volleyed hard into the roof of the net but had been adjudged to have strayed offside. It was close, coach Luis Castro complained for minutes, but soon after Hilal got the all-important second with Mitrovic heading home. There were huge complaints from Al-Nassr who claimed that the former Fulham forward had pushed Ronaldo to the ground.
But the goal stood and moments later Mitrovic added his second and his team’s third.
It was harsh on Al-Nassr and their fans, who started to leave, overwhelmed by the sea of blue and a wave of noise.
Al-Hilal will take some stopping from here. There is a long way to go, but on Friday night Riyadh was blue and the cars honked their horns in delight.