LONDON: On Friday night in Jeddah, Al-Ittihad beat Al-Hilal 2-0 in the Saudi Classico thanks to first-half goals from Abdulmohsen Fatallah and Saud Abdulhamid. The result leaves Al-Hilal still at the top of the Saudi Pro League with 48 points from 25 matches, three points ahead of Al-Shabab, who will face Al-Batin on Saturday. But now, Al-Ittihad in third place has also reduced the gap to three points.
However, there is more to it than that and there are five things we learned about the match.
1. Al Ittihad has ignited the title race
If Al-Hilal wins in Jeddah the title race will not end but it will be a big step towards another championship.
Al-Ittihad will be eliminated and the winner will be six points clear and while Al-Shabab has a game in hand, the fixtures are running out.
But now, everything is on the air. Whatever happens tomorrow with Al-Shabab in Al-Batin, there are only three points separating the top three.
Ittihad really has a chance, especially after beating the top two teams in the league within a month.
Whatever happens from now to the end of the season, all neutrals should be grateful for this result as it means there will be a lot of drama in the coming weeks.
2. Fatallah is a hero at both ends of the court
Whatever coach Fabio Carille may have said before the match, there was concern among Al-Ittihad fans about Ahmed Hegazi’s absence in defense.
The Egypt international has had an outstanding season since arriving in October and has played a major role in the club’s revival.
In the absence of regular defensive partner Ziyad Al-Sahafi, Al-Hilal’s forwards must have rubbed their hands with joy especially when his replacement Omar Hawsawi was injured after just 11 minutes.
Come Abdulmohsen Fatallah to play his second match of the season.
Not only did he help prevent Hilal’s increasingly desperate attack, but he opened the scoring with a powerful header.
Before the match, nobody would have suggested that the 26-year-old would be a Classico hero but he stepped in when needed, although goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe and the goalposts helped.
3.Carille wins the ‘Battle of the Brazilians’
Brazil exports a lot of talent around the world but there is still talk in South America about the fact that the Saudi Classico features coaches from the country.
This time, Fabio Carille won over Rogerio Micale.
It was a perfect display of aggressive Al-Ittihad in the first half and then cleverly counterattacked after the break as Al-Hilal pushed forward in growing desperation.
It is surprising how well Al-Ittihad is set at the back but flexible in attack as shown by the boss putting Fahad Al-Muwallad in a central role late in the match where his pace extended Hilal’s defense.
The champions had the lion’s share of possession against the Tigers but lacked in creativity when it mattered with Micale’s substitutions being as predictable as the game.
Carille handled the absence of star man Hegazi better than his opponent due to the absence of captain Salem Al-Dawsari.
It is Micale’s first experience of this match and defeat for the first time since 2016 will not make his standing with the fans any better.
4. Saud Abdulhamid means the goal
The right-back has not scored many goals, having scored just one goal before Friday, but he produced a splash late in the first half.
Taking the ball just one yard outside the penalty box, about half way between the touchline and the right corner of the box, everyone is waiting for the cross.
Instead, he fired a shot into the near top corner, tricking Abdullah Al-Mayouf in the Hilal goal. He said after the game that this was not an attempt to cross.
“I saw a room there and I looked for it,” he told television. It was a special goal and will be remembered forever.
5. Al-Shabab needs to handle pressure
The team from Riyadh had a very impressive season and moved up to first halfway.
But when the gifts were moved into view, the form had shaken.
Just one point from the last three games has cast doubts on the minds of fans.
But now, Al-Shabab has a second chance and can increase the points with Al-Hilal with a win against struggling Al-Batin.
This opportunity cannot be wasted much less considering what will happen next.
On May 7, the top two met. Basically, if Al-Shabab wins the next two matches, they will be three points clear at the top with four matches remaining.