Saudi rivals take their battle to the Asian stage
Riyadh: The 2019 AFC Champions League quarter-finals kick off on Monday with four heated encounters, but none is as historically significant as the all-Saudi clash between Al Ittihad and Al Hilal.
With nine Continental trophies and 23 Saudi League titles between them, Al Hilal and Al Ittihad are Saudi Arabia’s most successful teams and two of Asia’s greatest sides, but only one of them will make it to the last four of the 2019 AFC Champions League.
Al Hilal have reached the semi-finals three times in the past five years, while time has not been kind to two-time AFC Champions League winners Al Ittihad, whose last semi-final appearance dates back to 2012 when they lost to city rivals Al Ahli.
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Ever since their first league encounter, a 3-2 Al Ittihad win in Jeddah back in 1976, the rivalry has grown into one that attracts tens of thousands to the stands whether it is in Riyadh or Jeddah while millions more tune in to their screens.
The rivalry reached new heights around the turn of the century as the two sides evenly split 14 of the 16 Saudi Pro League titles contested between 1995-96 and 2010-11.
In that same period, Al Hilal won five Continental trophies, including the Asian Club Championship title in 2000. While Al Ittihad lifted back-to-back AFC Champions League trophies in 2004 and 2005.
The two sides locked horns on the Continental stage for the first time in the 2000-01 Asian Club Championship quarter-finals. Al Ittihad emerged 2-0 winners with goals from Al Hassan Al Yami and Sergio Ricardo who had bagged a hat-trick in the competition’s final for Al Hilal just months earlier to help them win the title, before making the move to Al Ittihad.
Al Ittihad were also the winners the next time the rivals met in an AFC competition. It was the 2011 AFC Champions League Round of 16 and this time Portuguese midfielder Nuno Assis scored a brace either side of Abdelmalek Ziaya’s strike while Abdulaziz Al Dawsari’s memorable chip proved merely consolation for Al Hilal. Al Ittihad went on to reach the semi-finals before exiting at the hands of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Despite the intense rivalry, several players and coaches have achieved legendary status at both sides of the divide. Romanian coach Anghel Iordanescu led Al Hilal to the 2000 Asian Club Championship title before repeating the feat five years later with Al Ittihad. Key to his success on both occasions was the presence of right-back Ahmed Al Dokhi.
Saud Kariri represented both teams in AFC Champions League finals, winning twice with Al Ittihad, but not getting as lucky in the blue shirt when he lost the 2014 edition as Al Hilal captain. Lining alongside Kariri on that night in 2014 was Nasser Al Shamrani, who scored for both sides in the AFC Champions League.
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