Hamdallah and Grohe claim headlines from unforgettable Roshn Saudi League contest between Al Ittihad and Al Shabab
If Al Ittihad do end up winning the 2022/23 Roshn Saudi League title, they will look back on Thursday’s 2-1 win over Al Shabab as a pivotal moment.
It was not only an exciting game, full of action, but it was a crucial one in terms of the title race and, not for the first time, Abderrazak Hamdallah and Marcelo Grohe shone at opposite ends of the pitch.
Going into the clash, Al Ittihad were three points clear of Al Nassr in second, with Al Shabab three points further back. Now, thanks to Hamdallah, the gap at the top is six points with just six games left.
It is not all over, but the Jeddah outfit are in a great position to become champions for the first time since 2008/09. Al Shabab are now nine points off the pace, but they had their chances.
This was a game of attacking intent and plenty of opportunities but ultimately, it was a tale of four penalties that were given and all-but-one converted.
It was fitting then that the headlines will belong to two players who have done so much for Al Ittihad and their coach Nuno Santo this season. Hamdallah scored the first penalty that was awarded after 18 minutes to put the hosts ahead.
Then, almost 100 minutes later, the Moroccan was summoned to the spot once more.
By this time, the hosts were down to 10 men after the late red card given to Zakaria Al Hawsawi and were surely satisfied with a 1-1 draw which would have given them a four-point cushion. Yet Hamdallah kept his nerve in impressive fashion and just rolled the ball down the middle of the goal to send a big crowd at King Abdullah Sports City wild with delight
The other hero was Grohe, the goalkeeper at the heart of the most miserly defence in the league. The Brazilian had made some fine saves, before he was finally beaten by Cristian Guanca’s second-half penalty.
Then with just minutes remaining, Al Shabab were given a second spot kick. This time Aaron Boupendza, who gave away Al Ittihad’s first penalty, stepped up.
A goal would surely have given the visitors a win to put them level on points with Al Nassr in second and just three behind the Jeddah giants.
His chipped, Panenka-style, penalty was, however, saved coolly by Grohe who had chosen to stand his ground. It meant that the South American could simply pluck the ball from the air above his head.
It may end up being one of the most memorable moments of the season.
It also meant that the score stayed at 1-1, giving Hamdallah the chance to be a hero in the dying moments of an epic clash.
There were two teams, both trying to win a game that could have gone either way until the very end. There were talking points, excellent attacking and defensive play.
Al Ittihad are now six points clear, but there are still six games to go. Al Nassr could reduce the gap on Friday with a win at home to Al Raed, but now Al Ittihad are in a strong position after the night of four penalties and high drama.