Al Hilal received a rapturous welcome home following their runner-up finish at the Fifa Club World Cup.
The Saudi Arabian side, the current Asian champions, were beaten 5-3 by European counterparts Real Madrid in Saturday’s final in Morocco.
Hilal had already made history at the tournament, becoming the first Saudi Arabian team to reach the Club World Cup showpiece. Their previous best performance was third, in 2019 and 2021.
Speaking after the final in Rabat, Hilal manager Ramon Diaz said: "I have to congratulate my players. It was a tough, difficult game, but we showed that we have class and that we deserved to get here. I also thank the people for their support and who watched us - we hope we put on a good show.”
Madrid’s victory came courtesy of doubles from Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde, while the returning Karim Benzema was also on the scoresheet. Hilal forward Moussa Marega had halved the deficit midway through the first half, with teammate Luciano Vietto striking twice in the second half.
Hilal had last week beaten South American champions Flamengo in the semi-final to set up the clash against Madrid.
On competing against the Spanish giants, who now have a record-extending five Club World Cup titles, Diaz said: “When you have an opponent of this category, they put you under pressure due to the quality of the players they have. In general terms we didn't make so many mistakes, but the quality of the opponent creates chances for you and makes them happen to you.
“But it's not easy to score three goals against Real Madrid - that's why I'm proud. All the people of Al Hilal surely are. I'm very happy for the quality, for the attitude, for scoring three goals and competing until the end.”
Hilal returned to Riyadh on Sunday, where they were greeted at the airport by Saudi minister of sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal and other dignitaries. The squad and staff then were presented on stage in the city in front of thousands of supporters, where Diaz addressed the crowd, along with some of the team’s senior players.
Currently fourth in the Saudi Pro League – they have games on hand on their title rivals – Hilal resume the defence of their crown on Wednesday, away to Al Fayha. A win would take them to within two points of the summit.