Al-Hilal start Saudi Pro League season with tough win in Jorge Jesus’ first league match
RIYADH: If Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus was unaware of the challenges involved in defending the Saudi Pro League title, he now knows following a hard-fought 1-0 win over nine-man Al-Fayha in the opening round of the 2018-19 season on Friday.The Portuguese coach was an animated figure on the sidelines in his first league game since being appointed in June in a game that saw three red cards and a late penalty from Mohammed Kanoo that won the points for the defending champions.“It was a tough game for us,” Jesus said. “Al-Fayha are a strong team and we had to work hard to get the win. We have more work to do to get to where we want to be this season but it is good to start with three points.”Those points were deserved after an attacking and aggressive performance from the hosts at a sold out King Saud University Stadium that included the watching Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.Al-Hilal went at the visitors from the get-go and had three attempts on goal inside 90 seconds. The first of the red cards came after 63 minutes when Omar Hamad Al-Aowda received a second yellow for wrestling Salem Al-Dawsari to the ground on the left side.Al-Dawsari was sent off for a second bookable offense ten minutes later for a foul on the edge of the area. “He was just over enthusiastic,” said Jesus of the Saudi international. “His energy and work-rate can mean that he receives cards.”Shortly after however, the hosts were given a penalty. Mohammed Al-Burayk was chopped down by Tawfiq Buhumaid on the right side of the area. Kanoo stepped up to send Al-Fahya’s Colombian goalkeeper Cristian Bonilla the wrong way.With ten minutes remaining, Abdullah Kano fouled Omar Khribin near the center-circle to reduce the visitors to nine men.Al-Hilal’s big summer signings such as Andre Carrillo and Abdulrahman showed flashes of their ability, suggesting there is more to come from the two-time continental champions. “There is still a long way to go this season and we will continue to improve,” Jesus said.Elsewhere, rivals Al-Ittihad slipped to a 1-0 loss at Al-Shabab. The only goal of the game came from former Al-Hilal striker Nasser Al-Shamrani who took advantage of a defensive error with 11 minutes remaining. “It was our goal to get off to a good start against a club like Ittihad,” Al-Shamrani said. “They have lots of good players and potential but we deserved the win.”Ramon Diaz is Ittihad’s new coach but after being fired by Al-Hilal in February, the Argentine’s return to the Saudi Pro League was not a happy one. Diaz, who declared before the game that his target was the title, came under fire from local media for his lack of aggressive tactics.Star winger Fahad Al-Muwallad, back with the Jeddah club after his loan with Spanish club to Levante ended in May, backed the Argentinian.“It is not down to the coach,” said Al-Muwallad. “The players have to take responsibility for what happened on the pitch, we will work hard to improve in the future.”After finishing ninth last season, fans are desperate for an improvement. “We have started badly and I apologize to the fans who support us so well but congratulations to Al-Shabab,” added Al-Muwallad.Nordin Amrabat scored on his debut to give Al-Nassr, third last season, a last-gasp 2-1 win at Ohod on Thursday.Former Brazilian international Giuliano slipped the ball through a crowded area for the Moroccan marksman, signed from English Premier League team Watford, to score from close range in the 96th minute.