Unstoppable Al Nassr centre forward Abderrazak Hamdallah and miracle-working Al Taawoun coach Pedro Emanuel reigned supreme at the 2018/19 Saudi Professional League Awards.
Hamdallah, 28, rocketed in a Kingdom record 34 goals in 26 top-flight appearances to fire his employers towards their first title since 2014/15. This stellar performance in a debut campaign for the ages saw him, predictably, honoured with the Best Player gong in Riyadh during the early hours of Sunday morning.
The Best Coach award was taken home by ex-Porto defender Emanuel. The 44-year-old – coveted by Al Ain – guided Taawoun to a remarkable third-placed finish and landed the grandest trophy of their 63-year history earlier this month with the King’s Cup.
His charge, Muteb Al Mofarij, emerged as the Best Young Saudi Player and imposing Al Hilal midfielder Mohamed Kanno earned the Best Saudi Player gong. Farouk Ben Mustapha, of Al Shabab and Tunisia, was named Best Goalkeeper.
2018/19 SPL AWARDS
Best Young Saudi Player: Muteb Al Mofarij (Al Taawoun, on loan from Al Hilal)
Best Saudi Player: Mohamed Kanno (Al Hilal)
Best Goalkeeper: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab)
Best Coach: Pedro Emanuel (Al Taawoun)
Best Player: Abderrazak Hamdallah (Al Taawoun)
Rui Vitoria has reflected warmly on the sizeable mid-season obstacles he cleared to guide Al Nassr to Saudi Professional League success.
The ex-Benfica coach’s charges came into Thursday’s final-day with a slender one-point lead over – then – reigning champions Al Hilal. But it would be the yellow half of Riyadh left to celebrate a first title since 2014/15 after a brace from Morocco predator Abderrazak Hamdallah earned a 2-1 win against relegated Al Batin at a raucous King Fahd International Stadium, making the Crescent’s 3-2 triumph against Al Shabab moot for their hopes.
“I went to Saudi Arabia to do my best, believing that it was possible to win, in a difficult context, mid-season, with a group that had not been prepared by us,” TVI24 were told by Vitoria, who inked an 18-month contract in January after time was called on a trophy laden four-year stint at Estadio da Luz.
“We ended up winning this championship and we were satisfied by that.
“It was hard work, initially with a three-point gap and then six. But we knew what we had to do.
“The special flavour is to win, wherever it is. I’m glad to have this title after four months in the country – this is very gratifying.”
There was also joy for managerless Al Ahli Jeddah when they crept into a play-off spot for the 2020 AFC Champions League in the last round.
Caretaker Yousef Anbar did his bit with a 5-0 thrashing of mid-table Ettifaq, in which Cape Verde striker Djaniny notched a hat-trick.
Shabab had begun the day in third, yet their defeat against Hilal sent them spinning down to fifth. Al Taawoun took their place in the top three with a 2-1 victory against Al Faisaly, though their claiming of the King’s Cup earlier this month meant their continental spot went down to fourth-placed Ahli.
At the bottom, Al Qadsiah were confirmed as the third-and-final automatically relegated outfit with a 2-2 draw at Al Hazem.
This outcome, however, had positive ramifications for Al Fayha. Their 5-2 beating of Al Wehda guaranteed them safety, plus painfully dropped Hazem into the relegation play-off.
The title showdown between Riyadh giants headlines a Saudi Professional League decider laced with interest throughout the division.
After 296 matches across eight months, much remains up for grabs. A solitary point separates leaders Al Nassr – gunning for a first top-flight success since 2014/15 – and holders Al Hilal. This battle, in turn, will have a strong bearing on the race for the remaining 2020 AFC Champions League berth between third-placed Al Shabab, resurgent King’s Cup winners Al Taawoun and managerless Al Ahli Jeddah.
Further down, fallen giants Al Ittihad are, finally, safe from the dreaded drop. Only one of Al Qadsiah, Al Fayha and Al Hazem are guaranteed to feel the same way when the final whistle is blown.
THE KINGDOM’S CROWN
The hard work is done by Nassr, all that’s left is to creep over the line.
For neighbours Hilal, the time has come to pray for an unexpected gift. The contrast in last opponents could not be starker.
Nassr welcome relegated Batin, who they swatted aside 2-0 in October. They have also lost seven of their last eight matches.
Some momentum has been found by Hilal under coach Pericles Chamusca, their third of the campaign. Charged-up Shabab, however, must triumph at King Saud University Stadium to guarantee ACL football for the first time since 2015.
There have been several twists in this tale. Can we expect another?
TAAWOUN’S JUST REWARD?
A dream 2018/19 could yet leave a sour taste for Taawoun.
Little was expected from 2017/18’s seventh-placed club. Under unheralded Al Ain target Pedro Emanuel, however, they have ended a 10-year trophy drought and are close to a second-ever ACL entry.
Taawoun must now swat aside Al Faisaly and hope Hilal down Shabab. If not, last week’s frustrating goalless draw against the aforementioned side will linger throughout the long summer hiatus.
TIGERS CLAW WAY BACK
Disaster has been averted by Ittihad.
There is, however, something still to play for. Jose Luis Sierra’s answering of February’s emergency call sparked a staggering revival that has, thus far, encompassed six wins, one draw and one loss to snatch SPL survival.
A final flourish against bottom-placed Ohod will help show which players deserve to be retained for 2019/20’s climb up the standings.