An electric Riyadh Derby between Al Hilal and Al Nassr leaves so much to play for in coming weeks
Riyadh Derbies are usually important, contentious and dramatic – and Tuesday’s meeting between Al Hilal and Al Nassr was no different.
The history books will show a 2-0 win for Al Hilal, but there was much more to this story.
First and foremost, this was a rare occasion in recent seasons when the victors entered this fixture without being in the thick of the title race. Collecting just a single point from the previous three games had left champions Al Hilal in fourth with much to do.
Al Nassr started the day three-points behind leaders Al Ittihad in Roshn Saudi League with both having seven games remaining. Victory would have put them top and put pressure on the Al Ittihad ahead of their crunch game against third-place Al-Shabab next week.
Now, however, Al Nassr are hoping that the Jeddah club slip up more than once in the coming weeks.
Al Ittihad boss Nuno Santo will know that the result also makes the title race a real three-team affair. Should Al Shabab defeat the leaders, they will be just three points off pole position and the drama will move up another level.
Al Nassr, playing their first game since parting company with head coach Rudi Garcia earlier in April, had their chances through a Cristiano Ronaldo goal ruled out for offside by VAR and then a penalty decision, initially given by English referee Michael Oliver, also overruled.
It means the nine-time champions need to bounce back as soon as possible under temporary coach Dinko Jelicic. There are still 18 points to play for and four of those games are at home.
Fans of Al Hilal at King Fahd International Stadium enjoyed this victory against Riyadh rivals, the result also marking a welcome return to winning ways.
Coach Ramon Diaz will want to finish as high up the standings as possible and this win also means that Al Hilal can approach the semi-final of the King’s Cup next Sunday against Al Ittihad and the subsequent first leg of the AFC Champions League against Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in good spirits.
Two more goals, both from the penalty spot from red-hot Odion Ighalo, mean that the Nigeria striker is now two clear at the top of the scoring charts with 18 goals.
The return of Salem Al Dawsari on the pitch after injury will stand him and the team in good stead for the rest of the season. Full-back Yasser Al Shahrani and midfield legend Salman Al Faraj got more minutes under their belts.
For Al Nassr, this result will go down as a painful defeat against their city rivals. Whether it will be seen as the beginning of the end of their title dreams or a loss that spurred Ronaldo and his team to bounce back to glory remains to be seen.