Al Hilal bid to extend record run of victories in Saudi Super Cup final

French star Karim Benzema holds key for Al Ittihad, who stand in their way in Abu Dhabi on Thursday night

Powered by automated translation

Al Hilal will start the game as overwhelming favourites when they look to defend their Saudi Super Cup title against Al Ittihad at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

Hilal enter the final on the back of a world record 33 consecutive wins. They also lead the Saudi Pro League by 12 points and will be facing a side even further back, 30 behind them, down in fourth place.

However, Jorge Jesus, the Hilal manager, insisted they are more focused on winning trophies than breaking records after they surpassed the previous mark of 27 consecutive wins – set by Welsh side The New Saints – last month.

Jesus’ men were impressive as they defeated the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Al Nassr 2-1 in the semi-final on Monday. The Portuguese manager will be hoping for an encore against Karim Benzema and Al Ittihad on Thursday (21.30 UAE time).

Jesus said they were successful in keeping Ronaldo quiet in the semi-final against Nassr because tactical plans were executed effectively by his players.

“In football, everything is possible. We must be realistic when we start from scratch, particularly when it’s a final,” Jesus said after his side booked their place in the title match.

“The collective efforts of our players is our strength. The players are given a role and they executed the plans to detail on the pitch.

“Having said that, we must also be realistic because every plan doesn’t work as we would like it to. But we will strive hard to achieve that as much as possible to win this game and take home another title.”

Hilal's plans worked so well in fact that a frustrated Ronaldo finished the match facing the possibility of a two-game ban after a red card for elbowing Hilal defender Ali Al Bulaihi. And, according to reports in Saudi Arabia, the Portuguese great could receive further punishment after seeming to mock the referee as he left the field in Abu Dhabi.

Hilal had Ronaldo closely marked and they are likely to adopt a similar ploy to keep Benzema in check.

The Frenchman scored the quickest goal in the history of the Saudi Super Cup, pouncing on a poor clearance from the Al Wehda defence, to give his side a 55th minute lead and emerge 2-1 winners in Monday night's first semi-final.

That was Benzema’s first goal since his strike against Egyptian club Al Ahly in the Club World Cup in Jeddah last December. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Hilal’s Serbian midfielder, is upbeat about his team's chances.

“In games like a final there are no favourites. It can go either way. We haven’t had much time to recover from the first game against Nassr and now against Ittihad.

“As I said, in the final, anything can happen. Obviously, we are here to win the title. That's our main target now.”

Milinkovic-Savic was amazed by the reception they received from the 35,000-plus crowd in attendance for the game against Nassr.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this kind of atmosphere and reception in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

“It was really great here, far away from Saudi. We seem to have fans all around the world. I'm getting used to it, so very good to play here in Abu Dhabi. So I'll ask the fans to come again for the final and to support us because they are very important for us.”

Marcelo Gallardo, the Ittihad manager, is looking forward to a tough battle against the Saudi Pro league leaders.

“We had a pretty good semi-final win over Al Wehda and we like to think we can take the momentum forward,” the Argentinian said.

“It’s going to be a tough test but a final can do wonders to the players. This is a great opportunity and my players are ready for it.”

Updated: April 10, 2024, 3:32 PM