Al Hilal were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Al Fayha under the watchful eye of their latest star signing Neymar on a night the Brazil icon was unveiled in front of 56,000 fans at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh.
Neymar, 31, became the Saudi Pro League’s record signing, joining Al Hilal in a blockbuster move from Paris Saint-Germain for a reported fee of €90 million ($98m). The Brazilian was announced as a new Al Hilal player on Wednesday and arrived in Riyadh on Friday.
Earlier this week, Al Hilal also announced the signing of Morocco international goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, with the former Sevilla goalkeeper landing in Riyadh following his participation with the Spanish side in the Super Cup which they lost to Manchester City on penalties.
Joining the duo in the glamorous ceremony which took place ahead of the game was Brazilian Malcom who arrived from Zenit Saint Petersburg for €60 million ($65m). The 26-year-old had marked his Saudi Pro League debut with an away hat-trick at Abha days before his official unveiling.
Neymar’s signing has sparked a frenzy in the Saudi capital with fans queuing for hours at the club’s official store in Riyadh and hundreds more purchasing the number 10 jersey at the pop-up store set up outside the stadium on Saturday evening.
"I’m proud to be a Hilali,” said Neymar who spoke in Portuguese as he stood at the centre circle to greet the thrilled supporters of his new side on Saturday. "Let's enjoy our football, have fun this season and win championships together,” added the Brazil captain.
With the festivities out of the way, it was time for football. As Neymar settled at the VIP terrace to observe his new team, his compatriots Michael and Malcom combined to put Al Hilal in front inside ten minutes, but the cheers of the large crowd was cut short as the goal was ruled out for offside following a VAR review.
Instead, it was the visitor who took the lead. Zambian forward Fashion Sakala made it two goals in two appearances since his move from Rangers to Al Fayha, dancing past his marker with some quick stepovers before firing from a narrow angle, beating goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf as Bounou watched on.
Abdullah Al Hamdan restored parity after pouncing on the rebound to sweep home after goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic spilled his attempt to parry away Michael’s cross from the right into the path of the young forward.
With the visitors retreating to defend in the second half, Al Hilal struggled to break them. Salem Al Dawsari had the best chance after the restart, but fluffed his lines with only the goalkeeper to beat.