The future’s bright for Saudi’s supercup victor al-Hilal
Al-Hilal and al-Nasr somehow managed to find the post no less than four times between them
This match didn’t quite provide the spectacle those wishing to attract a new audience to the Saudi game might have hoped - with only a single goal shared between Riyadh rivals al-Hilal and al-Nasr - but the contest was certainly a frantic one, and therefore somewhat reflective of the country’s greatest footballing rivalry.
Carlo Eduardo’s goal after 62 minutes - an excellent finish following a neat one-two move down the left wing - proved to be the game-winner, but another day this contest could have produced a distinctly more emphatic scoreline. Both sides had their chances in front of goal- and both sides found a common enemy in their thwarted efforts to take them: the Loftus Road woodwork.
Al-Hilal and al-Nasr somehow managed to find the post no less than four times between them, with Uruguayan Fabián Estoyanoff the first to do so from a freekick effort after 22 minutes. The second half saw Al-Nasr’s Shaya Sharahili also prevented from hitting the net by the woodwork, before just moments later Yasser Al-Shahrani had an effort from close range strike the post too.
Of course, at this stage of the season there are still a lot of moving parts for both sides. Al Hilal’s summer signing Ailton Almeida looked lively, and came close to finding a debut goal eight minutes before the break only to be denied by three successive defensive blocks. The Brazilian also had a shot - which he probably should have converted - cleared off the line, marking a mixed bow for the former FC Copenhagen and APOEL striker. He will surely enjoy more productive evenings in matches to come.
In fact, Ailton’s stuttering, if not hard-working, display was reflective of his side’s as a whole. Given al-Hilal’s insecurity at the back, which permeated all the way from the goalkeeper Khaled Mohamed throughout the defensive line, it was little wonder that they emerged at full-time with their clean shirt still clean. Mohamed did make one particularly impressive stop from Polish international Adrian Mierzejewski in the first-half, but generally speaking his distribution was poor and placed his side under pressure all too often.
Perhaps the biggest positive for al-Hilal - besides their victory - was the performance of some of their young prospects - like homegrown talents Faisel Darwish, Mohammed Jahfali and Al-Shahrani, who presented Eduardo with the assist for the decisive goal. With Giorgos Donis’ side looking to bridge the gap between themselves and Al-Nasr this season, that will provide encouragement in what the club’s future holds.
For al-Nasr however, this was their second successive Super Cup defeat and a somewhat disappointing performance. Mohammad Al-Sahlawi - the striker who has scored 121 goals in just 134 games for the club - was especially quiet, underlining just how reliant Jorge da Silva’s side are on their number nine in the number 10 shirt. When he struggles, they tend to struggle.
A scuffle between the two sets of players broke out in stoppage-time, providing perhaps the least surprising development of the match. Six red cards have been shared by Al Hilal and Al-Nasr over the course of their last three league clashes - so a spot of aggro was to be expected, even in unfamiliar surroundings. You can take the game out of Riyadh, but you can’t take Riyadh out the game.
By playing the Saudi Super Cup in London - almost 4,000 miles away from its usual home in Riyadh - it was hoped that the best of the country’s footballing scene would be showcased. That might not have happened per say, but a precedent has now been set as Saudi football looks to give itself a wider scope. In that sense, this match was decided by more than just the final scoreline.
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