Dozen up for Al Hilal
Riyadh giants Al Hilal clinched their 12th Saudi league title following a 2-0 away win to Al Hazm on Sunday. The victory moved them 13 points clear of second placed Al Shabab with three games to go. In doing so the perennial Saudi powerhouses, nicknamed Al Zaeem (The Boss) by their adoring fans, dethroned defending champions and arch-rivals Al Ittihad, who are left to compete for the runners-up spot against Al Shabab.
A 2-1 win over Al Raed on Tuesday saw Al Hilal on the verge of winning the championship. Knowing that a single win would seal their success, they dominated the match against Al Hazm from start to finish. Young striker Issa Al Mehyani set the visitors on the road to victory four minutes before the break when he latched onto Christian Wilhelmsson’s cross. Midway through the second half, substitute Nawaf Al Abed made sure of the points when he found the back of the net.
“We worked hard this season to win the league title,” said Al Hilal’s Belgian coach Eric Gerets, who took over last May. “We’ll continue our work to make sure that we compete strongly in the King's Cup and the Crown Prince Cup.”
It proved to be a memorable season for Al Hilal as they recaptured the league title in style. Under Gerets, they notched 16 wins from 19 games, with two draws and just one defeat. They began the season brightly with three wins, before being held to a 2-2 draw by Al Nasr. Another five wins followed which firmly cemented their place at the top. A 2-2 draw by Al Shabab may have ended their winning streak but that did little to thwart their progress.
The crunch tie against heavyweights Al Ittihad swiftly followed, but with the anticipated close match turned out to be one-sided, with Al Hilal running out 5-0 winners.
For eight-time league winners Al Ittihad, anything less than winning the title is seen as failure. Therefore, it came as no surprise that they sacked Argentinian coach Gabriel Calderon with their hopes of a ninth title few and far between after losing to Al Nasr two weeks ago, bringing about their fourth defeat in the season.
Al Nasr were the fiercest opponents for Al Hilal as they inflicted the only defeat on Gerets’ charges with a 2-1 win, a result ended their 14-game unbeaten run. Despite the loss, however, Al Hilal bounced back with a 3-1 win against Al Ahly and from there they never looked back, going on to win the next three games, including the defeat of Al Hazm which sealed the title.
With 52 goals in 19 games, the team have been a constant attacking threat. Leading the line is national team captain Yasser Al Qahtani, who has weighed in with eight goals, but their midfielders have proved to be just as good at scoring goals as they are in providing them. Diminutive left-winger Mohammed Al Shlhoob tops the team's scoring chart with 12 with Brazilian attacking midfielder Thiago Neves one goal behind, while Swede Christian Wilhelmsson has claimed nine.