Al Hilal, by royal approval

Al-Hilal's starting eleven pose for a group picture

Despite staying away from the Asian limelight over recent years, Al Hilal remain one of the most accomplished sides not only in Saudi Arabia but also across the continent. Best known to fans by their nickname of Al-Zaeem, which means 'The Boss', the club has long been a dominant force nationally and internationally.

Among the greatest players who have represented Al Hilal are 2000 AFC Player of the Year Nawaf Al Temyat, prolific forward Sami Al Jaber, who has appeared at four FIFA World Cups™, and the world record holder for the most international appearances, Mohamed Al Deayea, who is still the club's first-choice goalkeeper. Join as we take a closer look at the team claimed to be the most popular in its country.

Birth of an institution
As soon as they were formed, Al Hilal enjoyed not only grassroots support but also royal attention. The club was originally founded on 16 October 1957 under the name El Olympy in the capital Riyadh, but the title lasted for only a year before it was changed to its current name under decree by King Saud Bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud.

After spending their formative years building a squad, the club made their first mark by lifting the King's Cup trophy in 1961. That began an illustrious era for Al Hilal, which has involved them winning 50 official competitions. 

Making of a legend
Al Hilal recaptured the King's Cup in 1964, with a penalty shootout victory over two-time Asian champions Al Ittihad, to firmly cement their place among the nation's elite. With the club already being heralded as one of the nation's rising powers, it was natural that they emerged as the inaugural winners when the current Saudi Premier League came into existence in the 1976/77 season.

They have never looked back since, holding on to their tag as the league's all-time greatest side by seizing gold another ten times and finishing runners-up on 11 occasions in the space of 32 years. Al Hilal also have six King's Cups, eight Crown Prince Cups and seven Saudi Federation Cups to their name.

With the club's meteoric rise and money, a host of world-class coaches were attracted to their hot-seat in the 1970s, including Brazilian Mario Zagallo. Players from the four corners of the globe also moved to Saudi Arabia, most notably Brazilian star Roberto Rivelino, the pioneer of the elastico, which is still copied by the likes of Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo today.

In the 1990s, Al Hilal made their mark on the continental stage. In 1992, they won the Asian Club Championship, which they recaptured eight years later. Another vintage year came in 1997, when they captured the Asian Cup Winners' Cup and the Asian Super Cup, which they lifted again in 2002. The last time they got their hands on a continental trophy was in 2002, when they won the Asian Cup Winners' Cup.

The present
Despite Al Hilal's legendary status, they have recently been overshadowed by their fierce rivals Al Ittihad, who have won six league titles and the AFC Champions League twice over the past decade. In contrast, Al Hilal have won the league four times in that period [2005 and 2008] to qualify for the AFC Champions League, but on both occasions they were found wanting and failed to reach the knockout stage.

With the likes of Al Temyat and Al Jaber hanging up their boots lately, the duties of leading the team's attack have fallen on Yasser Al Qahtani, who steered Saudi Arabia to the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. The creative role behind him is filled by Khaled Aziz, who featured significantly for Saudi Arabia in the final qualifying round for South Africa 2010.

The stadium
Constructed in 1987 with a capacity of 67,000, the King Fahd International Stadium is among one of the most magnificent stadiums in Asia. Aside from Al Hilal and Al Shabab, the Saudi Arabia national team also play their home games there.

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