Al Hilal manager Leonardo Jardim has called on his players to prove they “deserve” to be in the Asian Champions League final when they take on Riyadh rivals Al Nassr in the last four on Tuesday.
The crucial clash between cross-city opponents, which takes place at King Saud University Stadium, represents only the second time Saudi Arabian sides have gone head-to-head for a place in the continent’s showpiece club match. This year's semi-finals comprise only one leg.
Hilal, Asian champions in 2019, defeated Iran’s Persepolis 3-0 in Saturday’s quarter-final in Riyadh, while earlier that night Nassr saw off UAE side Al Wahda 5-1. That match was staged at King Saud University Stadium, home to Nassr. Tuesday’s night’s encounter is the first time the Riyadh giants have met in the Champions League.
“It’s a very important match, a semi-final and a big derby,” Jardim said in the pre-match press conference. “Our objective is to qualify to the final. We have to show inside the pitch why we deserve to be there, regardless of the fact it is one leg in the ground of our opponents.
"The international experience we have at Al Hilal might be in our favour, but Al Nassr have a psychological advantage as they have won the last two games against us, so overall I think it will be balanced. We want to start our best XI. We will look at all the players, then decide who is most ready for the game.
“Both teams want to reach the final. We don’t always get a one-legged final played in Saudi, so it is important. In football there is always a home advantage and it’s the same here, but we believe in our fans and, with their support, we will also feel that we are playing at home.”
The game marks Nassr’s second successive Champions League semi-final after last year’s penalty-shootout heartache against Persepolis. The capital club are managed now by former Al Ain head coach Pedro Emanuel, whose took charge of the team for his first match only on Saturday.
“First of all, I believe it is a source of pride for Saudi Arabia to have two teams in the semi-final of this competition,” said Emanuel, who replaced Mano Menezes last month. “This is a game that all of us are looking forward to: the fans, the players and everyone at the club.
“We are excited and we know we are facing a strong opponent, but we are also confident with the support of our fans. Our main objective is to go to the final, so we are going to fight until the last minute to achieve this goal.
"Saudi teams are some of the best in Asia: Al Hilal are the 2019 champions and we reached the semi-final last year. We want to play a quality game because all the fans and everyone watching is expecting a good game. A full stadium in a big moment of the season. It will be an emotional game, so we have to prepare the players mentally for that."
Nassr have won the past two meetings with Hilal, although both have endured difficult starts to the 2021/22 Saudi Pro League, sitting fourth and seventh, respectively.
In the other Champions League semi-final, played in Jeonju, South Korea, on Wednesday, Ulsan Hyundai face compatriots Pohang Steelers.