Posts Tagged ‘Al-Ittihad’

Al-Hilal v Al-Ittihad, Tuesday 16th May 2023, 9.30pm

May 23, 2023

The biggest game in Saudi football is between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad. They are the two most successful clubs in the country by a long way and as the biggest teams in the two biggest cities, Riyadh and Jeddah, it’s a classic rivalry. It’s known as El Clasico over here, although Madrid and Barcelona may well raise a collective eyebrow at the borrowing of the term.

As befits the occasion ticket prices had risen from the usual twenty riyals for Al-Hilal home games to a still reasonable, I thought, ninety-two riyals.

I arrived with an hour to go to kick-off and it was busy outside. The usual scarf and flag sellers were out in force and most had supplemented their usual stock with some Al-Ittihad gear.

Whilst Al-Hilal don’t have much to play for in the league, Al-Ittihad were five points clear of Al-Nassr with just four games left. An away win would just about settle things. The rivalry was enough to guarantee a competitive game though and with Al-Hilal fresh from their Kings Cup victory it was Cup winners v Champions-elect.

Once inside I bought myself a shawarma and made my way up the six flights of stairs to the top tier. The away fans had around a quarter of the ground, and it seemed that most of them had brought a flag. Others had sneaked flares in with them, an impressive achievement given the body searches at the entrance gates, and we were treated to a display in the moments before kick-off.

Al-Ittihad settled first and seemed to have far too much space in the final third. They quickly went a goal up and then added a second on the half-hour.

Al-Hilal got a foothold after a VAR awarded goal where the keeper tried to push out a cross that ended up at his near post. The fans around me were adamant that it had crossed the line, but the players didn’t make much of a fuss. The action went on for a good three minutes before the ref received a whisper in his earpiece and belatedly pointed to the centre spot.

Surely a goal-line issue has to be settled quicker than that? There was an appeal for a pen just before half-time that was turned down but when the ref blew for the break everyone was wondering what would happen if three minutes later the VAR decided that it actually was a spot-kick? Do they come back out again? Or take it at the start of the second half?

In the second half Al-Hilal had the best of the possession and pushed for an equalizer, which finally came deep into added time when a header was saved but the rebound tucked away. The draw, plus Al-Nassr’s win, brought the title race back to life with just three points separating the top two and with three games to play.

Al-Shabab v Al-Ittihad, Monday 9th January 2023, 9.15pm

January 24, 2023

Ten days after my first visit to the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium to watch Al-Hilal, I was back to see the other tenants, Al-Shabab, in another top-tier Saudi Pro-League fixture. This time I’d bought a ticket online in advance, but at a cost of two hundred riyals, which is around forty-four quid and almost seven times the price that Al-Hilal charge. I’ve no idea why there’s such a difference but I dare say I’ll find out before long.

There were a lot of people milling around outside, perhaps equally baffled by the pricing. My ticket was in the open area opposite where I’d been sat the previous week. The segregation policy wasn’t enforced as there were a few women and kids in my section. The opposition, Al-Ittihad, had brought a decent away following and had a section at the other end of the ground. The ground was still only a quarter or so full though, with just under six and a half thousand fans in the twenty-odd thousand capacity stadium.

There was a bit of a scuffle near me in the first half, with a couple of blokes giving each other a slap. That’s actual slaps with a flat palm to the face. It turns out that there were a few away fans in our section and they were making their allegiance obvious. I don’t know why they didn’t just sit in the empty areas near to their allocated section, rather than plonking themselves in the middle of the seats occupied by the more vocal Al-Shabab supporters. The stewards did their best but were ignored and it took the arrival of a copper to restore order and lead the slappers to an exit.

I got chatting to Ahmed, who was a supporter of Al-Hilal and Arsenal, but like me was just keen to watch a game. He seemed surprised that I only followed the Boro and that I didn’t have a Premier League side as well. I was tempted to mention that I’d been looking out for Bournemouth’s results this season in the hope that Tav was doing well in his post-Boro career, but thought that would just make me look even odder.

Al-Shabab took the lead from a penalty on twenty minutes, but Al-Ittihad equalized soon after with a scrambled effort that they seemed to be doing their best to miss. The score stayed that way and with both the teams fighting it out with Al-Hilal in the top four, Ahmed was happy to see them both drop points.