Jorge Jesus says Al Hilal focused on titles not breaking records ahead of Al Ittihad clash

Riyadh club face fellow Saudi Arabian side in Asian Champions League quarter-final second leg in Jeddah on Tuesday

Jorge Jesus's Al Hilal team go into the Asian Champions League quarter-final second leg against Al Ittihad with a 2-0 advantage. Reuters
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Al Hilal manager Jorge Jesus says his side are more concerned with winning trophies than breaking records, despite the opportunity to enter the history books in the Asian Champions League quarter-final second leg on Tuesday night.

The Riyadh side, record four-time Asian champions, take on fellow Saudi Arabian club Al Ittihad in Jeddah with a place in the last four at stake.

Hilal triumphed 2-0 in the first leg at home last week, with Aleksandar Mitrovic opening the scoring from the penalty spot and reigning Asian Footballer of the Year Salem Al Dawsari scoring minutes later to place his team in pole position to advance.

Hilal, who lead the Saudi Pro League by 12 points, defeated Al Riyadh 3-1 on Friday to claim a 27th successive victory and thus equal the world record for wins on the bounce. Welsh club The New Saints set the mark in the 2016/17 season, surpassing a 45-year record held previously by Ajax.

However, Jesus emphasised that Hilal are focused much more on adding to their already-stocked trophy cabinet, a quest that resumes with Tuesday night’s all-Saudi clash at King Abdullah Sports City.

“The win record is a secondary plan that has come about,” the Portuguese said. “If the record comes about, it is history for the players, the coach and the club.

“It’s a world record but it’s not a title; titles are the league, the [King’s Cup] and the Asian Champions League. It’s true that the more you win then the closer you are to achieving your objectives, and we welcome that.

“[Against Al Riyadh], we didn’t show a lot of freshness, but we showed sufficiency to achieve the target of winning the game. We are prepared for Ittihad in the Champions League.”

Hilal, runners-up in last year's competition, go into the Ittihad encounter not only with a healthy advantage, but with a number of their star players in fine form.

Mitrovic netted a penalty against Riyadh last week to take his league tally to 20 goals in 22 matches since joining last summer from Premier League side Fulham – second only to Al Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The Serbian international, 29, sits as joint-top scorer in the Champions League, with eight goals in nine appearances.

Mitrovic has been ably supported of late by midfielders Ruben Neves and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and forward Malcom – like the former Newcastle United striker, the trio are in their debut campaign with Hilal – while Al Dawsari continues to prove a standout in both the domestic league and in Asia.

“Sergej and Ruben are among the players that have played the most minutes this season,” said Jesus regarding his decision to start both on the bench against Riyadh. “I felt that after the last game against Ittihad that they were a little bit tired.

“I tried to give them a little bit more rest by not starting against Riyadh, so that they can be more ready and fresh for the next game against Ittihad.

“They are fundamental players in the team and it’s important that we have them well recovered. It’s also important we can recover Salem for the next match. Every game we make three to four changes, and the weekend match was similar.

“Both Sergej and Ruben have big intensity when they are on the field. Against Al Riyadh, they were influential when they came on. Like Malcolm and Salem, we always want to keep them at their highest level of freshness.”

In contrast, Ittihad go into the second leg without instrumental midfielder N’Golo Kante. The 2018 World Cup winner is suspended after being sent off last week for a late tackle on Kalidou Koulibaly, another former Chelsea player.

Ittihad, Asian champions in 2004 and 2005, were already missing Karim Benzema, the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner, through injury. The former Real Madrid forward is not expected to be available for Tuesday’s return fixture.

However, Ittihad manager Marcelo Gallardo said on Monday: “I am completely confident that in tomorrow's match we will be fully focused and avoid mistakes. In the last match, we lost our concentration within minutes and conceded two goals.

“Tomorrow we must be fully focused in order to turn around the tie. The key is good mental preparation and concentration in all positions.”

The Argentine added: “In football, anything is possible, especially when it comes to will and initiative and being the best from the beginning. But I promise the fans that the team will represent them well from the first minute until the last.”

Updated: March 11, 2024, 3:15 PM