Aleksandar Mitrovic: I don’t think I ever played a better derby than the Riyadh derby

Al Hilal striker netted a double in the top-of-the-table clash against Al Nassr to send his side seven points clear in the Saudi Pro League standings

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Al Hilal goal hero Aleksandar Mitrovic said he has never played in a better derby after experiencing his first cross-city Riyadh clash against Al Nassr on Friday night.

The former Partizan Belgrade, Newcastle United and Fulham striker, signed from the latter this summer, scored twice in Hilal’s 3-0 victory against their Saudi Pro League (SPL) title rivals at a sold-out King Fahd International Stadium.

The win extended Hilal’s lead at the top of the table over second-placed Nassr to seven points after 15 rounds, while also maintaining the record 18-time Saudi champions unbeaten run in the competition this season.

Mitrovic, 28, struck twice late on in Riyadh, taking his league tally to 13 goals in 13 matches. As a result, he sits second in the scoring charts only to Nassr captain Cristiano Ronaldo.

Asked afterwards about the experience of his first Riyadh derby, Mitrovic said: “Amazing. Really amazing. I played derbies in many countries, but for sure this is, if not the best, [among] the top, top of the list.

“The pressure before the game, the build-up with fans before the game; really, really amazing, something special. To be honest, I don’t think I ever played a better derby.”

With Hilal 1-0 up courtesy of compatriot Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s header just after the hour, Mitrovic then rounded off the perfect night for the hosts with a close-range header one minute from time, and then a fine low finish three minutes later.

“It was a very open game,” Mitrovic said. “First half, we were better, we dominated, we had probably three, four clean chances to score goals, but we didn’t.

“We knew that, of course, they have quality, a lot of experience. And we knew that if we want to win the game, we have to keep a clean sheet.

“We scored the first goal at the right time, and we defended really, really, well – really compact as a team. Second goal, we killed the game, third goal as well. I could even score a hat-trick today, with a little bit of luck.

“But, overall, great performance, great game from us, and very big win for us and our fans.”

As has quickly become custom, Mitrovic was serenaded by Hilal supporters as he departed the pitch with chants of “Mitro’s on fire” to the tune of dance track Freed From Desire.

“I’m lucky that everywhere I play I always have a great relationship, but with these fans it’s amazing,” the Serbia international said. “Since the first day I arrive. Even when I didn’t come here yet, there was speculation I got so many messages and support.

“And since I arrived, from the first moment, we had a really special connection. They make me happy; I hope I will continue making them happy. It’s a happy marriage.”

In contrast, Ronaldo endured a difficult evening for Nassr, the Portuguese forward indignant when his 74th-minute equaliser was ruled out for the most marginal of offsides.

The defeat represented Nassr’s first in 13 league matches, and in 21 games overall.

Even still, Hilal manager Jorge Jesus sounded a note of caution when asked about implications of Friday’s result on the SPL title race.

“In my experience, seven points doesn’t guarantee anything,” he said. “Yes, we have had a good season, but there are no guarantees in football.

“We have to prepare ourselves for difficult moments to come because the league is very competitive.

“I’m happy with the three points today, but I want to say to the fans that nothing has been achieved yet.”

On the action-packed derby itself, Jorge Jesus added: “I want to pass a message to the fans that this game was a very good spectacle for the Saudi Pro League. It was broadcast all over the world and was a great showcase for Saudi football.

“It was a high-quality game with high quality players. The game, until right at the end, was of the highest competitive level between the two teams.”

Opposite number, Luis Castro, said of the task now facing his team in relation to a title challenge: “It will be difficult. For every team in the championship, it will be difficult. But we push and we keep going.

“We keep applying pressure because it’s still a long way to go in the championship. We are going to compete.”

Updated: December 02, 2023, 8:08 AM