Saudi Pro League .. Al Hilal win, Ronaldo bags hat-trick Matchday 25 saw Al Hilal snatch a remarkable 30th straight win in a seven-goal thriller at Al Shabab

JEDDHA  (  Web News  )

Global eyes are on the Saudi Pro League like never before after its clubs welcomed a host of star-studded new arrivals to the Kingdom over the past year. Each week, Al Arabiya English will round-up the key storylines as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Neymar and Co do battle for the 2023-24 title.

Matchday 25 saw Al Hilal snatch a remarkable 30th straight win in a seven-goal thriller at Al Shabab, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick underlined his dominance at the top of the Saudi Pro League scoring charts and Saudi Arabia striker Firas al-Buraikan had mixed fortunes in Al Ahli’s 2-2 draw with Al Ettifaq.

Al Hilal goes 30 for 30

Jorge Jesus led his still-invincible side to another new milestone on Saturday as Al Hilal racked up a record-extending 30th straight victory in all competitions. Hosts Al Shabab battled valiantly seemed in the final minutes that it might even steal a late equalizer, but the race to end Hilal’s streak goes on as the runaway league leader hung on for an entertaining 4-3 win.

Twenty-year-old midfielder Musab al-Juwayr is on loan at Al Shabab from Al Hilal and he showed his parent club what they are missing with a perfectly placed shot that crept in off the post to give his team a surprise lead after just three minutes. As they have consistently done this season, however, Al Hilal’s players responded to the challenge and by half-time it was 3-1 to the visitors.

A seven-minute brace from Aleksandar Mitrovic – the first a penalty that he had won himself, the second a tap-in from a yard out – took the Serbia striker to 22 goals in his debut Saudi Pro League season. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who set up Mitrovic’s second, then netted the 10th goal of his own impressive maiden campaign with a textbook run from deep. Salem al-Dawsari, fresh off his matchwinning strike for Saudi Arabia against Tajikistan in last week’s FIFA World Cup qualifier, added a fourth in the second half, sweeping home for his 12th league goal.

Al Shabab scrambled its way back into the game with two fine finishes, the first of which saw Hussain al-Sabiyani dance through the Hilal defense before slotting home impressively. The day’s best goal, though, was from an unlikely source as center-back Romain Saïss, the captain of the Morocco national team, crashed home a spectacular free-kick from 30 yards out. Still, Al Hilal hung on to keep its remarkable run alive.

Ronaldo the hat-trick hero

Al Nassr remains 12 points behind and therefore mathematically in with a shot at winning the title, but really each match now is realistically just the team cementing its runner-up spot. Having failed to find the net while on international duty for Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Saudi Arabia with a bang against Al Tai, scoring a superb hat-trick to inspire his side to a comprehensive 5-1 victory.

After dominating the early exchanges, Al Nassr went ahead in fortuitous circumstances as Otavio, looking to cross the ball to a team-mate, saw his pass sail past everyone and into the corner of the goal. There was nothing lucky about Al-Tai’s immediate equalizer – coming courtesy of a wonderful strike by Dutch winger Virgil Misidjan that curled beyond the grasp of David Ospina, back between the posts for Al Nassr.

Had Al Tai hung on until half-time, it could have been a different game, but seconds before the interval, Abdulrahman Ghareeb stole in at the back post to head home Sadio Mane’s right-wing cross and put the hosts 2-1 up. The second half was the Ronaldo show. Mane was provider again as his pass across the penalty area was whipped right-footed into the net by Ronaldo on 64 minutes. The Al Nassr captain’s second came two minutes later as he responded quickest to a mix-up in the box to steer the ball home from close range, before Ronaldo completed his hat-trick with another poacher’s goal – springing up to head in Abdulmajeed al-Sulaiheem’s cross.

Ronaldo was already top of the Saudi Pro League scoring charts this season but the hat-trick in Riyadh extended the gap between him and Aleksandar Mitrovic to four goals as he upped his tally to 26 in 23 matches. It was also notable as the 64th career hat-trick for Ronaldo, who holds the record for most trebles in international football (10) but remains some way behind overall record holder Pele, with the Brazil legend’s 92 hat-tricks looking wholly unbeatable.

Al-Buraikan bags at both ends

It has been a rollercoaster week for Saudi Arabia striker Firas al-Buraikan. On Tuesday, he scored a crucial goal for Saudi Arabia to secure a 1-1 away draw with Tajikistan that took the Green Falcons to the brink of reaching the next round of FIFA World Cup qualifying. Then on Friday, back in domestic action for Al Ahli, Al-Buraikan scored again – but at both ends – in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Al Ettifaq.

Al-Buraikan opened the scoring for the visitors from Jeddah as he lost his marker to steer in Riyad Mahrez’s low cross – his 13th goal of the season so far. However, the scores were level at the interval as Seko Fafana latched on to a smart pass from Karl Toko Ekambi, a recent arrival from Abha, before firing past Al Ahli No. 1 Abdulrahman al-Sanbi in first-half stoppage time.

Soon Al Ettifaq was ahead as al-Buraikan was on the scoresheet again, only this time for his opponent. The Saudi striker had actually demonstrated admirable work-rate and desire in racing back from deep inside the Al Ettifaq half to help his team defend, but the final result was unfortunate as he steered Mousa Demebele’s half cross-half shot beyond his own goalkeeper.

It would have been harsh had al-Buraikan’s intervention been decisive and, as the clock ticked down, he was rescued by team-mate Abdullah al-Ammar. The Saudi left-back raced forward and was found brilliantly by Algerian magician Mahrez, whose inch-perfect through ball was slid coolly into the goal by Al-Ammar. Mahrez now has more assists (10) than any other Saudi Pro League player this season.

Best of the rest

Ahead of an always mouth-watering Jeddah derby against Al Ahli on Tuesday, Al Ittihad’s preparations went swimmingly with a 3-1 comeback victory over Al Fayha, who had taken the lead through Abdelhamid Sabiri’s penalty. An 18th goal in 20 matches this season for Egyptian striker Abderrazak Hamdallah made it 1-1 before stoppage-time goals in the first half and second half from Ahmed al-Ghamdi and Marwan al-Sahafi respectively secured the points. It was a sixth win in seven games since the league restarted for Marcelo Gallardo’s team and a derby victory would see Al Ittihad leapfrog its neighbors into third place in the table.

In the battle for Saudi Pro League survival, Al Raed was the weekend’s biggest winner as a 3-1 away triumph at Al Akhdoud elevated Igor Jovićević’s side to 12th place, five points clear of the relegation zone. Moroccan striker Karim El Beraoui’s goals this season have been vital for Al Raed this season and he added his 10th of the campaign on Friday, before subsequent strikes from Mohamed Fouzair and Julio Tavares put the result beyond doubt.

Elsewhere, Al Tai’s heavy defeat to Al Nassr gave Abha the opportunity to seal a march on its relegation rivals but while it took the lead away to Al Riyadh through Francois Kamano, a 70th-minute equalizer from Saleh al-Abbas meant Pitso Mosimane’s recently resurgent team had to settle for a point in the Saudi capital.

Right at the bottom, things are looking bleak for Al Hazm after its 4-0 defeat to Al Taawoun on Friday but the club – currently seven points ahead of 17th-placed Abha – still has hope in the form of remaining fixtures against fellow strugglers Al Raed, Al Akhdoud, Al Riyadh and Abha to come.