Strength of Saudi Arabian game showcased by superb AFC Champions League displays, as holders Al Hilal make another final
A trio of teams from Saudi Arabia went to Qatar to participate in the Western Zone’s knockout stages of the AFC Champions League, over the past week.
One fell at the second-round stage, another at the last eight while holders Al Hilal made it all the way to the final and in spectacular fashion. In what was one of the most-impressive results in the tournament’s history, and another exhibition of the increasing strength of the Saudi game, the Riyadh giants thrashed Qatar Stars League leaders Al Duhail 7-0.
To defeat one of West Asia’s best teams on their home soil by such a score line was barely believable. But then this is Al-Hilal, the most-successful team in continental history with four Asian championships.
On this form, their legions of fans will expect a fifth crown against Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in the two-legged final in April and May.
This startling result was another landmark moment for Saudi football. From defeating eventual champions Argentina at World Cup 2022, to Al Nassr signing Cristiano Ronaldo and Al Hilal making a historic run to the Club World Cup final.
On this amazing Sunday, Odion Ighalo scored four, Moussa Marega two and Salem Al Dawsari got the other to leave Hernan Crespo, head coach of Al Duhail, stunned.
It was a display that showed the Riyadh giants at their best. Before then, Ramon Diaz’s men had been clinical rather than fluid. They saw off Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club of the United Arab Emirates 3-1 in the second round with goals from Ighalo, Jang Hyun-soo and the in-form Luciano Vietto.
The 1-0 quarter-final win over Foolad was hard fought and won only thanks to a goal three minutes from time from Marega.
It was expected that the semi-final against Al Duhail would be tough especially as the Doha club, playing on home soil, saw off Al Shabab in the quarter-final. Riyadh’s Al Shabab hitherto had the best record in the tournament, winning six out of seven, drawing the other and conceding just once.
Al Duhail won 2-1, but it was a game that could have gone either way.
Coach Vicente Moreno will know that his team had chances to win and that a first-ever Asian final was within reach. There is no time to rest, however, as they go back to their challenge for Roshn Saudi League.
Al Faisaly were not expected to make the last four, after the King’s Cup winners were relegated to the second tier at the end of last season. Yet the team had topped a group that contained Qatar champions Al Sadd before pushing Foolad of Iran all the way in a 1-0 loss. Now Al Faisaly go home to focus on winning promotion back to the top tier.
Al Hilal can also focus on the Roshn Saudi League title race and while the 18-time champion may be fourth at the moment, if they play like they did against Al Duhail, then they will take some stopping.
Saudi football’s rise continues unchecked.