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Al Nassr's unique run to the global stage

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia giants Al Nassr are widely known among their fans as "The International Club" after they become the first team from Asia to feature in the FIFA Club World Cup in the inaugural edition in 2000.

Al Nassr's run to the FIFA Club World Cup and its unique nickname started through their triumph in the 1997-1998 Asian Cup Winners’ Cup, which was followed by the Saudi side winning the Asian Super Cup which earned them a ticket to play in Brazil 2000.

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Al Nassr's first Continental triumph

The draw saw Al Nassr making their 1997-1998 Asian Cup Winners’ Cup bow in the quarter-finals after they were given a bye in the first two rounds. The meeting with Qatar’s Al Ittihad (now Al Gharafa) in the quarter-finals was only settled in the second leg with a 3-2 win for Al Nassr after a 0-0 draw in the first match.

The final stages of the competition were played at King Fahd International Stadium and Al Nassr took great advantage of playing at home as Mohaisen Al Jamaan and Majed Abdullah's first-half goals helped the Riyadh giants defeat Turkmenistan’s Kopetdag Asgabat 2-1 in the semi-finals.

Al Nassr set up a meeting in the final with Korea Republic’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings, who defeated Beijing Guoan 5-0 in the other semi-final.

The final was played on April 12, 1998 with Bulgarian international forward Hristo Stoichkov scoring after only nine minutes to steer Al Nassr to their first ever Continental title.

More success to follow

It was a year to remember for Al Nassr in 1998 as the last month of the year saw them adding another trophy to their cabinet after defeating another Korean outfit, Pohang Steelers, in the 1998 Asian Super Cup.

Pohang Steelers had won the 1998 Asian Club Championship and the two sides shared a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Pohang with Al Nassr's goal coming through Fahad Al Hreifi (pictured below).

Al Hreifi's goal proved vital as the second leg ended goalless as Al Nassr not only secured the title on the away goals rule, but also earned a ticket to the 2000 FIFA Club World Cup.

“The team was too strong at that time,” Al Hreifi told “The players helped each other and we had a great support from the club administration and the fans as well.

“We had a great dream of winning titles in Asia. We not only won the Asian Cup Winners’ Cup and the Asian Super Cup but also played in the FIFA Club World Cup.”

Meeting the best

Al Nassr were drawn in Group A of the 2000 FIFA Club World Cup along with Spanish giants Real Madrid, Brazil’s Corinthians and Raja Casablanca of Morocco.

The opening match for the Saudis was against Real Madrid at the Estadio do Morumbi in Sao Paulo and Al Nassr ended the first half brightly as Al Hreifi scored a late equaliser to cancel Nicolas Anelka's opener.

The experience of Real Madrid, however, prevailed as they scored two goals in the second half to achieve a 3-1 victory.

Al Nassr, however, bounced back strongly as they registered the first ever victory for an Asian club in the FIFA Club World Cup by edging Raja Casablanca 4-3, thanks to goals from Fouad Anwar, Ahmed Bahja, Al Hreifi and Moussa Saib.

The win gave Al Nassr a chance to compete for a place in the knockout stage of the competition but they lost 2-0 in their last group match to eventual champions Corinthians.

“It was a great feeling,” said Al Hreifi. “It was a great honour for us to be the first team from Saudi Arabia and Asia to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.

“The significance of the competition is that it was played in the country of football; Brazil. Our first match was against Real Madrid, which was amazing.”

The end of a generation

Al Hreifi was arguably the most prominent player in this generation of Al Nassr as he helped them win the Asian Super Cup and becoming the first Asian player to score in the FIFA Club World Cup before bringing the curtains down on his career in 2000.

Fouad Anwar, who was also a vital member of the squad, announced his retirement due to injury the same year, as did captain Mohaisen Al Jamaan.

Photos: AFP, AFC

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