Al Shabab and Al Hilal go head to head this Thursday in the latest edition of Riyadh's newest derby. Riyadh derbies were traditionally fiery confrontations between Al Nasr and their time-honoured rivals Al Hilal. Having won almost half of Saudi Arabia’s domestic titles between them, it was rightfully considered the country’s biggest derby.
This all began to change in the late 1980s, when Al Shabab, or the Lions as they are known locally, first broke the Riyadh giants’ stranglehold on the domestic front, winning back-to-back Saudi Federations Cup titles in 1988 and again a year later.
The fortunes of Al Nasr have waned in recent times, the club last tasting championship success 14 years ago. Their demise has coincided with the emergence of Al Shabab as the principle challengers to Al Hilal’s status as the Kingdom’s top side. It is therefore no surprise that the biggest derby in the Saudi capital today is the one featuring the evergreen Al Hilal and the resurgent Al Shabab.
Although Al Shabab were founded in 1947, a full ten years before Al Hilal and eight before Al Nasr, the latter two clubs always the more popular sides in Riyadh. Al Shabab’s early attempts to establish themselves were not helped by some big-name defections, most notably that of Abd Al Rahman Bin Sayeed, the then club president, who in 1957 left to form none other than Al Hilal.
In the seasons that followed, continual financial problems prompted several Al Shabab players to follow suit, adding fuel to the nascent rivalry between the clubs. The first meeting of the sides was in the final of the 1960 King Saud Cup, with Al Shabab prevailing 3-0 to secure their first ever trophy.
The following year Al Hilal made amends by lifting the same trophy, the first in a long line of domestic honours that would see them become the dominant force in Saudi football and earned them the nickname The Boss. The club’s haul of silverware includes winning 11 Saudi Premier Leagues and the country’s leading cup competition on 13 occasions.
On the continental front the club has also claimed the AFC Champions League, the Asian Cup Winners Cup and the Asian Supercup twice each. In contrast, Al Shabab had to wait until 1991 before securing the first of their five league championships. They have also won eight major cups, but have only one Asian title to their name, the 2001 Asian Cup Winners Cup.
Facts and figures
Since their first encounter in 1960, the teams have faced off 152 times between competitive and friendly matches. Although Al Shabab took the honours in their maiden duel, Al Hilal have the better record overall, with 74 wins to their rival’s 34, in addition to 44 draws. The two have also met in nine major finals, with Al Hilal prevailing on six occasions and Al Shabab three.
The rivalry between the pair has intensified in recent years as the gap between the sides has closed. In fact, their last ten meetings have produced two wins apiece and no fewer than six draws, the most recent being a 0-0 stalemate in the Prince Faisal Bin Fahad Cup at the beginning of this season.
Tales of derbies past
As well as a better head-to-head record, Al Hilal hold the proud distinction of having strung together seven consecutive derby wins, between 2000 and 2002, a feat their city rivals have never come close to matching. Al Hilal’s supporters have fond memories of their 4-0 win in the 2006/07 season, when a brace from Mohammad Al-Shalhoub and strikes from Yasser Al-Qahtani and Tarik El Taib saw them lord it over their arch-rivals, the then reigning league champions.
For their part, Al Shabab would prefer to ponder their 4-1 win in the 2008 Prince Faisal Bin Fahad Cup, an especially satisfying moment for the Brazilian Marcelo Camacho, who scored twice in his first match against his former club.
The rivalry today
Al Shabab will be particularly motivated for this week’s encounter as they will not only be vying for top spot in the league – their rivals are currently three points ahead – but also hoping for their first derby win since May 2007. The showdown will also have special significance for Libyan midfielder Tarik El Taib, who will be facing his former employer’s club for the first time since joining Al Shabab’s ranks. The Lions go into the game in confident mood after beating reigning champions Al Ittihad last time out and will be looking to their Angolan front-man Flavio Amado, midfielder Camacho and the team’s top scorer Nasser Al-Shamrani to help them draw level on points at the top of the table.
For their part, Al Hilal will be aiming to consolidate their lead and extend their run to ten games without defeat. They go into the match with what is widely regarded as one of the strongest front and back lines ever to grace the Saudi league. Pivotal to The Boss’ quest to keep their opponents at arms length will be the league’s current top scorer Mohammad Al-Shalhoub, who has already netted six times this season, and Yasser Al-Qahtani, who will be hoping for a big performance on his return to the starting eleven.