Al-Hilal put up brave fight in 5-3 defeat to Real Madrid in Club World Cup final
Al-Hilal will have to wait to be world champions after losing 5-3 to Real Madrid in an entertaining final of the FIFA Club World Cup in Rabat on Saturday but they return to Riyadh with their heads held high and Saudi Arabian’s reputation enhanced.
It was always going to be tough to defeat the star-studded European champions and so it proved but losing to the most successful team in the history of the sport is no disgrace especially when you score three goals.
In the 4-1 win over Al-Ahly of Egypt three days previously, the Spanish superclub had looked vulnerable at the back and so it was again as Al-Hilal caused plenty of problems. At the other end of the pitch however, it was a different matter however as Carlo Ancelotti’s men quickly found their rhythm and just had too much quality.
The now five-time world champions took the lead after 12 minutes with a well-worked goal. Karim Benzama slipped Vinicius Junior through to the left side of the area and while Abdullah Al-Mayouf got a foot to the Brazilian’s low shot, he couldn’t keep it out.
It was a blow but a minute later, Hilal came close to an instant reply as Luciano Vietto’s shot from outside the area had Andriy Lunin scrambling across his line to make a save but the ball went just centimetres wide of the Ukranian’s right-hand post.
Then it got worse in the 18th minute. Al-Hilal failed to clear and Federico Valverde’s low shot went through the legs of Ali Al-Bulaihi and into the back of the net. Now the Blues had a mountain to climb and as Los Blancos continued to stream forward, there were fears of falling further behind.
But then it was 2-1. A perfect through ball from Mohamed Kanno inside the Hilal half sent Moussa Marega free just to the right of centre and the Malian’s shot from just inside the area squeezed under Lunin to halve the deficit. After three goals in 26 minutes. Madrid suddenly had something to think about with the Asian team growing in confidence as well as possession. Ten minutes later, Marega, under pressure from Antonio Rudiger, shot wide from a tighter angle though Benzema came closer a few minutes later.
The first half ended with a strong Al-Hilal appeal for their fourth penalty of the tournament. Salem Al-Dawsari was bundled over by Rudiger in the area as he tried to cut inside to shoot from clode range. The referee was having none of it.
Both teams continued to push forward after the restart and Al-Hilal could have taken the lead had Saud Abdulhamid found the right pass in the area but it was Real Madrid who then extended their lead after 54 minutes. A delightful left-sided cross from Vinicius was lashed home by Benzema from close range. Soon after it seemed to be all over as Valverde added his second and his team’s fourth.
There was no coming back from that but Al-Hilal tried. Three minutes past the hour, Abdulhamid released Vietto and the Argentine coolly lifted the ball over the goalkeeper to make it 4-2 Soon after, Vinicius Junior restored his team’s three goal advantage, shooting home from close range.
Al-Hilal weren’t done however as, with 11 minutes to go, Michael raced down the left side of the area to pull it back for the impressive Vietto who spun inside the six yard box to score. Moments later, it should have been 5-4 but Marega shot wide with the goal at his mercy and missed the chance to set up a barnstorming finish.
Ultimately, Real Madrid were just a little too good but Ramon Diaz and his players should look back with pride at their performance in the final and in the tournament. The penalty shootout victory over African champions Wydad AC a week earlier and then the 3-2 win over South American title-holders Flamengo of Brazil on Tuesday will live long in the memory. At various times in the past week, Al-Hilal have shown their talent, fighting spirit, mentality as well as tactical flexibility, composure and intelligence. After the last three months or so when Saudi Arabian football has been making waves on the international stage, they added to the country’s growing reputation.
After a world final with Real Madrid, next up is a league game with Al-Feiha on Wednesday. With title rivals Al-Nassr, Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad all winning while Al-Hilal have been in Morocco, it is another big one.