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Saudi Cup: Al Hilal beat Benzema's Al Ittihad to lift first silverware of season

Al Hilal beat Al Ittihad 4-1 to lift the Saudi Cup for a fourth time in the tournament's history (REUTERS)
12 Apr 2024 00:01

Kuumar Shyam (Abu Dhabi)

Saudi Pro League leaders Al Hilal lifted the Saudi Cup on foreign soil, in Abu Dhabi, for their first silverware of the season as they beat Al Ittihad 4-1 at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

Hilal are leading the domestic league with seven games to go and a fourth Saudi Cup crown also served notice in the Asian Champions League to UAE club Al Ain, whom they meet in four days for the first leg of their semi-final. Hilal beat Al Nassr club with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in the first game before turning their attention to Ittihad. Though the latter had an off-colour Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante among their ranks, they were never a threat for the men in blue.

Brazilian Malcolm gave just the start his manager Jorge Jesus wanted for Hilal after another piercing move from the centre of the box saw him put his team in the front in the fifth minute. 

The Ittihad attack took time to gather steam with Karim Benzema and Abderrazak Hamdallah trying to find the charge all by themselves. Despite Benzema’s struggles in finding the net – although he scored a unconvincing goal in 55 seconds against Wehda in the preceding game on Monday – the crowd got excited every time he got close to the ball. 

Then Romarinho and N’Golo Kante started stepping up a little, and almost immediately the former’s cross provided the breakthrough for Ittihad, but not without drama. Hamdallah came dashing in to meet the cross but was tripped by Renan Lodi. The referee first did not make the call, but when the ball went out of play, VAR intervened to summon the referee to the pitch monitor. 

  • Brazilian star Neymar and Al Hilal player did not play, but he was watching from the stands (AFP)
    Brazilian star Neymar and Al Hilal player did not play, but he was watching from the stands (AFP)


Hamdallah stepped up, instead of Benzema, but goalkeeper Abdulla Al Mayouf dived correctly to his right to parry it, but Hamdallah put the rebound in. Ittihad fans regained some comfort but the peace was shattered within 11 minutes.

If the first goal was good with teamwork, Salem Al Dawsari came up with an exquisite solo effort that would have done even Neymar Jr proud as the once richest footballer in the world watched his teammates from sidelines. Running in from the left and collecting a pass in the last quarter of the field, the Asian Player of the Year dodged four players one by one and kept crossing over to the right, before he angled in a diagonal to catch goalkeeper Yassine Bounou wrong-footed. 

Al Dawsari, who usually does a double-flip celebration, went up to Neymar at the half-line to make a gesture of paying respect. With seven minutes of stoppage time, the tall Brazilian Michael had a stinging lone-range effort go a little wide over the upright before the eventful first half ended.

Compared to the busy first half, the tempo dialed down a bit for most of the second half. In the 65th minute, Ittihad thought they found the equaliser but Romarinho was adjudged offside, a decision confirmed by VAR.

Ittihad, though, had VAR to thank for disallowing a goal from a cross by Saud Abdulhamid who had strayed down a little ahead on the right. And just when Ittihad thought they had done just enough to hang in there despite early substitutions, a defensive lapse from Ahmed Hegazy saw Malcolm blitz in and score his second with four minutes to go.

The torment for Ittihad and Mayouf was complete when Al Hilal launched another surge in the final minutes of the game. Though Mayouf saved a juicy volley from Nasser Al Dawsari, another substitute Abdullah Al Hamdan was at hand to bounce in the rebound.

  • Al Hilal fans much to cheer for in the 4-1 victory at Abu Dhabi's Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium (REUTERS)
    Al Hilal fans much to cheer for in the 4-1 victory at Abu Dhabi's Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium (REUTERS)




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