Mitrovic: ‘I don’t think I’ve played a better derby’

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored two late goals to secure Al-Hilal the victory in the derby. (Al-Hilal)
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Updated 02 December 2023

Mitrovic: ‘I don’t think I’ve played a better derby’

Two-goal hero Aleksandar Mitrovic was full of praise for Al-Hilal fans after they generated an electric atmosphere in the 3-0 Riyadh derby victory over title rivals Al-Nassr.

Mitrovic snatched a late brace for Al-Hilal on Friday, adding to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s opener to put Luis Castro’s side to the sword at the King Fahd Stadium. The victory extends their lead at the top of the Saudi Pro League to seven points.

And Mitrovic, who played in the West London derby for Fulham, Tyne-Wear derby for Newcastle and Belgrade derby for Partizan, claimed that Friday’s clash between Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr was the pick of them.

“(It was) amazing, really amazing,” Mitrovic said after the match. “I played derbies in many countries, but for sure this is, if not the best, for sure top, top of the list.

“The pressure before the game, the build-up with fans before the game (was) really, really amazing, something special. To be honest, I don’t think I ever played a better derby.”

Mitrovic has quickly become a fan favorite at Al-Hilal, helped by his 20 goals in 20 games across all competitions for the Riyadh heavyweights. The double against Al-Nassr meant the supporters were serenading their Serbian striker again. 

“I’m lucky that everywhere I play, I always have a great relationship, but with these fans it’s amazing,” Mitrovic said.

“Since I arrived, from the first moment, we had a really special connection. They make me happy. I hope I will continue making them happy. It’s a happy marriage.”

Both sides had opportunities in the game, but it was the league leaders who were eventually more ruthless in front of goal, despite spurning some earlier chances.

“It was a very open game,” Mitrovic added. “From the beginning of the first half, we were better, we dominated; we had probably three, four clean chances to score goals, but we didn’t. We knew that of course, they have quality, a lot of experience.

“We knew that if we wanted to win the game, we had to keep a clean sheet. I think we scored the first goal on time, and we defended really, really well as a team.

“(With the) second goal, we killed the game, the third goal as well. I could even have scored a hat trick today with a little bit of luck. But overall, it was a great performance, a great game from us and a very big win for us and our fans.”

Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

Updated 23 February 2024

Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

  • After a scare when they fell behind to Sepahan of Iran, Al-Hilal rallied to win the game 3-1 and go through 6-2 on aggregate
  • With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition

Al-Hilal defeated Sepahan of Iran 6-2 on aggregate on Thursday to book a mouth-watering Asian Champions League quarter-final tie against Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad.

After winning the first leg 3-1 away from home last week, the four-time winners of the competition survived a scare in the second leg before comfortably clinching victory by the same scoreline.

This was a bit harsh on the visitors, who played their part in an entertaining and open clash during which both sides created plenty of chances. In the end, however, as Neymar watched from the stands, the Saudis progressed comfortably, helped along the way when Sepahan were reduced to 10 men while ahead in the second half.

Salem Al-Dawsari, making his 400th appearance for the club, got the equalizer in the 76th minute, after Farshad Ahmadzadeh put the visitors in front nine minutes after the break. With just seven minutes left on the clock, Ruben Neves came up with a spectacular strike that gave Al-Hilal the lead, and there was still time for Aleksandar Mitrovic to add a third.

In the end, it was a more comfortable result for Al-Hilal than looked likely in the 54th minute, when Ali Aarabi swung over a cross from the left and Ramin Rezaeian headed the ball back across the face of goal for Ahmadzadeh to bundle home from close range.

The sparked plenty of nerves among the home fans in the Kingdom Arena but they were able to breathe a little easier when, with 19 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to 10 men. Siavash Yazadni brought down Malcom as the Brazilian was running through on goal and, after a check with the video assistant referee, he was shown a straight red card.

Al-Hilal quickly took advantage of the one-man advantage when, five minutes later, Ali Al-Bulaihi found Al-Dawsari outside the area and the winger turned to beat two defenders, then stroked the ball home. At that point, the home fans could rest easy in the knowledge that their team were as good as through to the last eight.

It was a fine goal by Al-Dawsari but just six minutes later, Neves pulled something even more special out of the hat. The ball fell to the Portuguese star outside the area, he chested it down and volleyed home a curling shot that flew into the top corner.

In the final moments of added time, Mitrovic scored a goal that might not live as long in the memory but showed his killer instinct as he swept home a smart pass from Malcom to make it 3-1.

With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition. The showdown between Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal is the quarter-final tie that many fans, inside and outside the country, will be most looking forward to. The first leg is scheduled for March 5.

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

Updated 22 February 2024

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

  • The Jeddah giants leave it late but progress after a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan

Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad squeezed into the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Thursday thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan, following a goalless draw in the first leg last week.

The Jeddah giants recovered from a Karim Bemzema own goal midway through the first half to take control of the game, level the score and eventually go through thanks to a late Navbahor own goal. It was no less than the Saudis deserved as they made most of the running and created the bulk of the chances.

Fabinho had the earliest opportunity to open the scoring but the former Liverpool midfielder fired just over the bar from outside the box.

The opening goal came from a familiar source but not in the way fans expected. The home crowd was silenced in the 25th minute when Jamshid Iskanderov floated over a free-kick from the right, and former Real Madrid star Benzema met it on the edge of the six-yard box to send a powerful header into his own net past a startled Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

The goal came out of nothing, against the run of play, but Al-Ittihad quickly regrouped, refocused their efforts and continued to dominate the game.

Benzema redeemed himself on the stroke of half-time, nodding down a corner to the near post where Abderrazak Hamdallah was waiting to sweep the ball home from close range.

The second half unfolded in much the same fashion, with Al-Ittihad enjoying most of the possession and creating more of the chances. Midway through the period, however, they were reminded of Navbahor’s goal threat when Filip Ivankovic fired just wide from the right side of the area.

With 15 minutes remaining, Benzema had the ball in the net, the correct one this time, when he fired home after some good work from Ahmed Hegazy. After a lengthy intervention, however, the video assistant referee ruled it out.

This only delayed the celebrations of the home fans, though, as three minutes from time the Tigers took a decisive lead, thanks to another own goal.

Substitute Saleh Al-Amri’s corner from the right failed to clear the first man but, in swinging a boot, Toma Tabatadze sliced his attempted clearance and the ball looped over the keeper into the far corner of the net.

Navbahor did their utmost to get back on level terms but time was against them and it was not to be. As a result, Al-Ittihad, back-to-back winners of the competition in 2004 and 2005, remain in the hunt for a third continental crown.

Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon

Updated 22 February 2024

Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon

  • Hosts now cannot reach knockout stages of the West Asian Football Federation tournament with only a match against Guam left in Group A

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia have exited the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after losing 3-2 to Lebanon at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on Wednesday night, Arriyadiyah have reported.

The Green Falcons have no points from two defeats in Group A, having lost their opener 3-1 to Jordan.

The Jordanian team leads the group with a maximum of six points, on goal difference from Lebanon. Both teams have now progressed to the semifinals.

Guam, who Saudi Arabia play in a dead rubber fixture on Friday, sit bottom of the group with no points after two losses.

Lebanon took the lead after only three minutes through Christy Maalouf, and only three minutes later doubled their lead through an own goal from Saudi Arabia’s Nouf Saud.

Syntia Salha seemed to have put the match beyond the Green Falcons with a third for Lebanon from the penalty spot on 38 minutes.

The Kingdom’s players showed commendable spirit in the second half against strong opponents to pull back two goals, from Lana Abdulrazak (61) and Seba Tawfiq (81) but could not pull off what would have been a stunning comeback.

Neymar dons Saudi attire to celebrate Founding Day

Updated 23 February 2024

Neymar dons Saudi attire to celebrate Founding Day

RIYADH: Brazilian football star Neymar caught everyone’s attention when he appeared wearing traditional Saudi clothes during preparations for the Kingdom’s Founding Day celebrations.

His club, Al-Hilal, shared photographs of the player wearing the thobe, shemagh and headband famously associated with the late King Abdulaziz, showcasing the general atmosphere ahead of the day.

Neymar was accompanied by Esteve Calzada, the CEO of Al-Hilal, and Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, along with other teammates, and trended on social media platform X dancing the Ardah, Saudi’s national dance.

The widely adopted white thobe in the Kingdom, favored for its comfort in the hot climate and desert setting, is complemented by other traditional attire for special occasions. This includes Almorudan, worn over the thobe, distinguished by its long arms and commonly donned during Ardah performances.

Karim Benzema. (X/@Benzema)

The 32-year-old recently returned to Riyadh to continue his rehabilitation after undergoing surgery for a ruptured cruciate ligament in his left knee. He sustained the injury during Brazil’s loss to Uruguay in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers last October.

Founding Day is celebrated in the Kingdom on Feb. 22 each year to commemorate its establishment by Imam Mohammed bin Saud in 1727 CE.

The Saudi Ministry of Sports recently announced the 21st round of the Roshan Professional League tournament would be named the Founding Round to symbolize the day’s significance.

Neymar is not the only player to celebrate Founding Day with his Saudi fans. Last year, Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo was shown wearing traditional attire along with his Al-Nassr teammates.

Meanwhile, Al-Shabab’s Croatian star Ivan Rakitic also celebrated the Founding Day in a similar style and posted on X: “Happy Saudi Foundation Day! Let’s honor the solid roots of the Saudi state and celebrate the unity, security, and cultural development it has achieved.”
He also posted pictures of him wearing traditional Saudi clothes.

Saudi Arabia fall short in 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship opener against Jordan

Updated 20 February 2024

Saudi Arabia fall short in 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship opener against Jordan

  • Despite the 3-1 loss, Kingdom can still progress from Group A with matches against Lebanon and Guam up next

Saudi Arabia’s women’s national team lost 3-1 to Jordan in their 2024 West Asian Football Federation opener at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on Monday night.

Despite a spirited performance throughout the 90 minutes from Lluis Cortes’ side, Jordan took control of Group A. Saudi Arabia can still qualify for the knockout stage with matches against Lebanon and Guam to come on Wednesday and Friday respectively.

Jordan took the lead through Mai Sweilem in the 24th minute before Leen Mohammed equalized for the Green Falcons nine minutes later (33).

Jordan regained the lead through Maysa Jbarah on 61 minutes, with Ayah Al-Majali confirming victory with a third goal for the visitors from the penalty spot after 72 minutes.

Taking place in Jeddah until Feb. 29, the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship is the first official 11-a-side women’s tournament held in Saudi Arabia. This year’s eighth edition welcomes seven nations alongside the hosts, including Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Guam and Nepal.

The WAFF Women’s Championship is the latest international football tournament in Jeddah, where both the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup and 2022 WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship have been held.