Al-Hilal v Abha, Sunday 22nd January 2023, 6pm

Today was Ronaldo Day, with him making his debut for Al-Nassr. I’d tried to get tickets online but despite adding one to the cart any number of times I was never able to close it out before the ticket mysteriously vanished.

I wasn’t too despondent though as Al-Hilal had a home game and they never sell out. Or at least they won’t until they sign Messi.

I had some stuff to do and so didn’t make it to the Prince Faisel bin Fahd Stadium until ten minutes or so after kick-off. Apparently I had turned up at the wrong gate, but having told me, the fella just waived me through anyway. The crowd seemed smaller than usual, perhaps due to the earlier kick-off, and I wasn’t surprised when it was announced as being below four thousand. It felt like Ayresome under Bobby Murdoch.

Abha didn’t contribute many to the attendance with just the two fans sitting to my left, although that’s double the number that Al-Adalah had following them in my previous game at the ground. Perhaps the relative cold weather played its part with many of the locals sat with their big winter coats on despite my phone telling me it was a balmy twenty-one degrees. For clarity, that’s Celsius.

Al-Hilal were in their traditional dark blue with Abha dressed up as Man City. Al-Hilal took the lead twenty minutes in after a spell of putting the visitors under pressure. There was a three-minute VAR check before the restart which, as a neutral, I don’t mind. Maybe if I start to develop some kind of allegiance to one of the teams here I might think a little differently. I’m pleased that we don’t have it in the Championship though, as when the Boro score I like to do nothing more than glance at the relevant linesman before celebrating.

The home lead didn’t last long though and five minutes after the opening goal was finally given Abha were level. It remained that way until half-time when a few drops of rain started to come down. WTF? I didn’t sign up for rain. Not over here. Perhaps those wearing big coats had a good reason.

Al-Hilal re-took the lead ten minutes into the second half from a penalty and looked like they had clinched it when substitute Moussa Marega finished a breakaway in added time. He’s a popular fella and the kids to my right had brought home-printed pictures of him to brandish. Their joy was short-lived though as a VAR review chalked off his goal and instead the ref awarded a free-kick just outside the box at the other end of the pitch. In the space of a minute it could easily have gone from three-one and game over to two-two and more dropped points. Fortunately for Al-Hilal the free-kick came to nothing, and they ran down the clock to seal the win.

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