Al Hilal's tactical brilliance stifles Ronaldo in Saudi Super Cup clash

Saudi Pro League leaders defeat Riyadh rivals 2-1 in Abu Dhabi and will face Al Ittihad in Thursday's final

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Al Hilal manager Jorge Jesus praised his defence for keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet on Monday as the record-breaking Riyadh club booked their place in the Saudi Super Cup final with a 2-1 win over Al Nassr in Abu Dhabi.

Following a scoreless and even first half, Hilal broke the deadlock at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium through Saudi international Salem Al Dawsari just after the hour mark, before Brazilian forward Malcom doubled their advantage 11 minutes later.

Ronaldo, who entered the match having scored successive hat-tricks in his previous two games, could not add to his tally this season, and his frustrations eventually boiled over in the 86th minute when he was shown a red card for elbowing a Hilal player.

Sadio Mane halved the deficit with a goal deep into injury time, but it was too late to spark a comeback as Hilal booked a final showdown on Thursday with Al Ittihad, who had earlier defeated Al Wehda in the other semi-final.

“We expected Nassr to change their style of play and indeed they did to hold us in the first half, but we changed gear after the break to take control and earn a well-deserved result and reach the final,” said Jesus, whose Hilal side stretched their world-record winning run to 33 matches.

“The first half was equal. Both sides created scoring opportunities and going into the second half I think we had some clear chances to break the deadlock, particularly in the first 10-15 minutes. We eventually managed to score, not once but twice, and all credit to the players.”

Key to the victory was preventing Ronaldo from scoring. The Portuguese forward has been in prolific form this season and tops the Saudi Pro League scoring charts with 29 goals, seven clear of Hilal's Aleksandar Mitrovic.

“Cristiano is not someone who wants to be in a losing side. Obviously, he lost his cool. We must understand he’s a dangerous player for any team who may encounter him,” Jesus said.

“We had a good defence to counter Cristiano. Our centre-backs Kalidou Koulibaly and (Ali) Albulayhi marked him closely throughout the game. They did a great job in the last line of defence.

“Hilal and Nassr encounters are derbies. We are winning against them for the third time in the season but these results don’t come easy," Jesus added. "Even tonight, it could have gone either way. Our plans, particularly in the second half, worked better. It really was an outstanding team effort.”

Nassr manager Luis Castro came to Ronaldo’s defence by saying he didn’t deserve to be sent off for retaliation.

“Cristiano is a high-profile and famous player and everyone in the opposite side tries to provoke him. I don’t think he did anything that justified his expulsion,” Castro said, before adding that Hilal ultimately deserved to win.

“We had a good first half but the players lost control of the match after the break.

“We had some difficulties in the attack in the second half and Hilal took advantage of that opportunity to score two goals. We also allowed them to take possession in the second half, and we lacked the positivity of the first half.”

Updated: April 10, 2024, 3:02 AM