5 things we learned from Al-Feiha’s stunning defeat of Al-Hilal in King’s Cup final
The King’s Cup final between Al-Hilal and Al-Feiha on Thursday was a dramatic and tense encounter. After 90 minutes it was 1-1, with Salem Al-Dawsari putting Al-Hilal ahead on the stroke of halftime and Ramon Lopes equalising midway through the second half. The scoreline remained the same after extra time and Al-Feiha triumphed in the penalty shootout. There were plenty of talking points and here are just five:
1. Hard-working Al-Feiha make history
Al-Feiha had to fight for everything and were rewarded with a first major trophy in their history. They were second best in terms of possession and chances, but were always in the game and made it hard going for the league champions. Perhaps the game started more openly than coach Vuk Rasovic would have liked with Al-Hilal having chances early but then Al-Feiha settled and kept it tight for most of the two hours.
Despite falling behind, the men from Al Majma’ah kept calm, got back on level terms and then defended as if their lives depended on it. It remains to be seen whether this marks the start of a new era for the victorious team, but whatever happens, it is a night that will go down in Al-Feiha’s history.
This was a real team performance achieved through hard work, organization and fierce defending. Rasovic obviously knows how to play against Al-Hilal and his players followed his instructions to the letter, at least after the opening 10 minutes when the Riyadh giants had some good chances.
From then, it became a battle. Al-Feiha have played Al-Hilal three times this season and have conceded just one goal. Despite the loss, the champions will be happy that they will not have to face this opponent for a while.
2. Al-Ittihad will be delighted
While this game was always going to define the season for Al-Feiha, that was never going to be the case for Al-Hilal, who lifted a record fourth Asian title last November. Casting a shadow over the encounter was next Monday’s Classico against Al-Ittihad, which will go a long way to deciding where the Saudi Pro League title ends up. And this was the perfect situation for the Tigers, who were able to sit back and watch their closest challengers have a tough match and then go into extra time.
Al-Hilal’s squad may be the best in Asia, but it was already stretched due to injuries and suspensions. Now there is an extra layer of fatigue that has been added and you could see the demands of a long season taking its toll.
As befits the King’s Cup final, the team from Riyadh picked their strongest possible team and it is a team now more tired than ever. At some point on Monday, it is quite possible that the Al-Hilal players will start to feel the effects of Thursday. Al-Ittihad in contrast have had more than two weeks in which to rest. Perhaps the best sight of the night for the league leaders was Salem Al-Dawsari going down with cramp in the second period of extra time. The smiles must have been very wide all over Jeddah.
3. Al-Feiha were right about Al-Hilal’s weakness
Before the game, Al-Feiha boss Rasovic rightly spoke at some length about the attacking talent that Al-Hilal have at their disposal and how it was going to be the toughest of games. The Serbian did, however, point to what he saw as the champions’ vulnerability: A problem dealing with crosses from wide. That was certainly the case for the equalising goal when a simple low ball into the area from the right side caused panic in Al-Hilal’s defence. Ali Al-Bulaihi fell over and Jang Hyun-soo was slow to react, which gave Ramon Lopes the second he needed to get a shot off.
Even so, the Brazilian’s effort was straight at Abdullah Al-Mayouf and, it seemed, at catchable height. However, the goalkeeper could only push the ball up and into the net. The Blues continued to look uncomfortable whenever the ball was sent into the area. It would not be a surprise to see Al-Ittihad doing something similar on Monday.
4. Al-Hilal’s tired stars have to dust themselves down
There was no doubt that Al-Hilal’s big names are feeling the effects of a long season and multiple competitions, but they have no rest before the huge title decider on Monday against Al-Ittihad. The likes of Matheus Pereira looked a little flat.
There was plenty of fanfare last summer when Al-Hilal beat a host of European clubs to the signature of the Brazilian playmaker, but while he has had his moments, he has yet to really take a big game by the scruff of the neck, and against such a determined and organised opponent, the final was crying out for a touch of class.
Moussa Marega worked hard, but neither he nor Ighalo could find a breakthrough. Abdullah Otayf was taken off early in the second half as coach Ramon Diaz tried to find a way through. It just did not happen in the end, but there is no time to dwell on the defeat as the big games keep on coming. Now Al-Hilal have to find a way to bounce back and take on their rivals in a title decider.
5. Al-Feiha continue positive trend
From 1986 to 2018, only five clubs lifted the King’s Cup: Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Shabab, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli. Yet, the domination of the big clubs, which is also the case elsewhere such as in England, has started to erode of late. Al-Taawoun won in 2019, Al-Faisaly lifted the trophy in 2021 and now it is the turn of Al-Feiha. It shows that the so-called smaller teams are improving, and while they still may struggle to live with the big boys over the course of a long season, in one-off encounters they have what it takes to win.
This is a positive development for Saudi Arabian football. When there is a path to glory then there is incentive for everyone to aim as high as possible and this helps raise the standard all over the country. And then there is the Asian Champions League. Al-Faisaly and Al-Taawoun have enjoyed their experiences on the continent which can only stand them in good stead for the future. Next year it will be the turn of Al-Feiha to cross swords with international rivals. They have what it takes to shine in a tournament setting.