AFC Champions League: Poor preparations and Saudi stars to influence Al Hilal v Al Ittihad tie

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Nawaf Al Abed (l).

The Saudi El Clasico is sure to, belatedly, catch light when great rivals Al Ittihad and Al Hilal compete on Tuesday for a berth in the 2019 AFC Champions League’s semi-finals.

More than 54,000 impassioned fans packed into Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City experienced an incongruous and sedate goalless draw in the opening stanza. Something has to give when the action resumes at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium.


The attention of the Kingdom will centre on the King Saud.

It would be wrong for this gaze to fixate, alone, on foreign ranks which contain the likes of ex-France centre forward Bafetimbi Gomis and prolific Brazilian forward Romarinho. The passions of this 69-year-old rivalry are uniquely Saudi – it would be fitting if locals decide it.

Forgotten superstar Nawaf Al Abed’s fine opener versus Al Fayha gave a timely reminder of his talents, while goals this month from fellow winger Salem Al Dawsari earned Saudi Arabia draws versus Mali and Yemen.

From the yellow and black hordes, destiny calls for summer buy Haroune Camara. Serbia centre forward Aleksandar Prijovic’s absence from Ittihad’s reduced four-player non-domestic quota opens up opportunity.


Neither combatant can be impressed with weekend results.

The Saudi Professional League’s resumption witnessed 2018/19 runners-up Hilal drop points for the first time this term in a 1-1 draw with unfancied Fayha. This slip was inflicted on home soil, via a 94th-minute leveller from Arsenio.

Ittihad, however, did even worse. Calamitous errors from centre-backs Manuel da Costa and Abdulmohsen Fallatah gifted a landmark 2-1 victory to promoted Damac.


Signs of potential success for the visitors are scant.

They sit 12th in the SPL and look set for another flirt with relegation, while Hilal’s potent attack puts them top. The Tigers, however, boast successive – and impressive – away Asian wins at Qatar’s Al Rayyan and Iran’s Zob Ahan.

If they make this a hat-trick on Tuesday, Ittihad’s faithful may yet be able to keep crowing about two ACL titles to their opponents’ painful zero.

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