Aleksandar Mitrovic: Al Hilal's thrilling derby win vindicates move to Saudi Pro League

Hat-trick hero revels in big game atmosphere in Jeddah and says he already feels at home

Aleksandar Mitrovic scores hat-trick as Al Hilal beat Al Ittihad in seven-goal thriller

Aleksandar Mitrovic scores hat-trick as Al Hilal beat Al Ittihad in seven-goal thriller
Powered by automated translation

Aleksandar Mitrovic says Al Hilal’s remarkable comeback victory in the Saudi “Clasico” showcased why he chose to move to the Saudi Pro League.

The Serbian international, signed last month from Premier League side Fulham on a three-year contract, struck a hat-trick in the thrilling 4-3 win at champions Al Ittihad in Jeddah on Friday night.

Hilal, like Ittihad unbeaten through their opening four league matches, had gone into half-time 3-1 down at the Prince Abdullah bin Faisal Stadium. However, the visitors rallied to score three goals in 11 second-half minutes and completely turn around the encounter.

The triumph meant Hilal, who began Matchday 5 in third, jumped above Ittihad to the top of the table, with Mitrovic rightfully named player of the match.

The former Newcastle United striker, 28, has settled well since joining Hilal, scoring on debut to sit on four goals and an assist from his first three matches for the Riyadh club.

Asked if the “Clasico”, played in front of a fervent sold-out crowd in Jeddah, proved he was correct in deciding to continue his career in the kingdom, Mitrovic said: “Crazy, to be honest. I didn’t follow a lot about this league until my name was mentioned with Al Hilal.

"This is the night, the game, that you love to see. I never experienced this in any other league, the atmosphere for both teams. Our supporters as well, from beginning of the game.

"It was an amazing game and this for sure was one of the reasons I moved here. The reception I get from the fans, from my teammates is amazing.

“Three games so far, three wins. Still the beginning of the season, but we play good football, we create a lot of chances, and we play football that everybody wants to see.”

Mitrovic netted Hilal’s first three goals on the night – Salem Al Dawsari prodded home the winner on 71 minutes – with his first an early contender for goal of the season.

On 20 minutes, and moments after Ittihad had taken the lead, Mitrovic met Saud Abdulhamid’s cross just inside the penalty area to emphatically volley the ball high past Marcelo Grohe.

On where it ranked among the 200-plus career goals he has scored, Mitrovic said: “I always say every goal for me is a special goal; even the second [a rebound from his own saved header] or the third goal [a penalty]. For me it doesn’t matter if it’s a volley or just a tap-in; when I feel the ball go over the line I’m the happiest man on Earth.

“I just reacted really well, the cross was good, and I tried my best to hit the target. And, yeah, the finish was amazing.”

Mitrovic, one of a plethora of high-profile summer recruits to the Saudi Pro League, thanked the Hilal administration, manager Jorge Jesus and his teammates for helping him settle so well during the first few weeks at the club.

“They welcomed me really amazing,” he said. “They make me feel a part of this the moment I arrived, the first training session.

“They talked to me, gave me [advice as to what] you’re going to experience the next few games. Thank you for the welcome I had, from the fans, from everyone. Really, I feel like I play a few years here.

“It’s an amazing beginning. Hopefully we can have more moments like this in the future.”

Record 18-time Saudi champions, Hilal are seeking to add to their haul this season having finished third last campaign. The capital club are next in action against Al Riyadh at home on September 15 after the international break, with star signing Neymar expected to be fit enough to make his debut.

Despite defeating Ittihad, Mitrovic played down the significance of the result, even if it felt like an early statement of intent by his team.

“Every big win in a derby like this is important,” he said. “After coming back like this, away as well, it’s even more special. We celebrated in the dressing room, but we know that this club Al Hilal is an amazing club, a big club, and this is just the beginning of our journey.

“We still have a lot of games to play. We now [go] enjoy time with our national teams. Some players have time off, but we have to make sure when we come back that this is behind us, and we focus on all the games ahead.”

Updated: September 02, 2023, 2:34 PM