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5 things we learned from Al-Feiha’s stunning loss to Al-Hilal in Copa del Rey 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 giving Al-Hilal the lead at half-time and Ramon Lopes equalizing midway through the second half. The score remained the same after extra time and Al-Feiha prevailed on penalties. There were a lot of talking points and here are five:
1. Hardworking Al-Feiha Makes History
Al-Feiha had to fight for everything and was rewarded with a first major trophy in its history. They were second best in possession and chances but were still in the game and made it difficult for the league champions. Perhaps the match started more openly than coach Vuk Rasovic would have liked, with Al-Hilal having chances early on, but Al-Feiha settling in and keeping in touch for most of the two hours .
Despite falling behind, Al Majma’ah’s men remained calm, leveled up and then fought back as if their lives depended on it. Whether this marks the start of a new era for the winning side remains to be seen, but whatever happens, it’s a night that will go down in Al-Feiha history.
It was a true team performance achieved through hard work, organization and hard defending. Rasovic obviously knows how to play against Al-Hilal and his players followed his instructions to the letter, at least after the first 10 minutes when the Riyadh giants had good chances.
From there it became a battle. Al-Feiha have faced Al-Hilal three times this season and conceded just one goal. Despite the loss, the champions will be happy not to have to face this opponent for a while.
2. Al-Ittihad will be delighted
While this game was always going to define Al-Feiha’s season, it was never going to be the case for Al-Hilal, who won a record fourth Asian title last November. Next Monday’s El Clasico against Al-Ittihad has cast a shadow over the encounter which will go a long way in deciding where the Saudi Pro League title ends up. And it was the perfect situation for the Tigers, who were able to sit back and watch their closest opponents have a tough game and then go into overtime.
Al-Hilal’s squad may be the best in Asia, but they were already stretched due to injuries and suspensions. Now there is an extra layer of fatigue that has been added and you can see the demands of a long season taking their toll.
As befits the King’s Cup final, the Riyadh team have chosen their strongest team possible and they are a more tired team than ever. At some point on Monday, it’s entirely possible that Al-Hilal players will start to feel the effects of Thursday. Al-Ittihad, on the other hand, had more than two weeks to rest. Perhaps the best sight of the evening for the league leaders was Salem Al-Dawsari who suffered from cramp in the second period of extra time. The smiles must have been very wide everywhere in Jeddah.
3. Al-Feiha was right about Al-Hilal’s weakness
Before the game, Al-Feiha boss Rasovic rightly spoke at length about the attacking talent Al-Hilal have and how it was going to be the most difficult game. The Serb, however, highlighted what he saw as the champions’ vulnerability: a problem with crosses from far. That was certainly the case for the equalizer when a simple low ball into the box from the right side sent panic through the Al-Hilal defence. Ali Al-Bulaihi fell and Jang Hyun-soo was slow to react which gave Ramon Lopes the second he needed to shoot.
Even so, the Brazilian’s effort was straight on Abdullah Al-Mayouf and, it seemed, at catchable height. However, the keeper could only push the ball up and into the net. The Blues continued to look uncomfortable every time the ball was sent into the box. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Al-Ittihad do something similar on Monday.
4. Tired Al-Hilal stars need to dust themselves off
There is no doubt that the big names in Al-Hilal are feeling the effects of a long season and multiple competitions, but they have no rest before Monday’s huge title decision against Al-Ittihad. Matheus Pereira’s tastes seemed a bit flat.
There was a lot of fanfare last summer when Al-Hilal beat a host of European clubs to the signing of the Brazilian playmaker, but while he’s had his moments, he’s yet to really take a hit. big game by the scruff of the neck, and against such a determined and organized opponent, the final demanded 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 force his way through. It just didn’t happen in the end, but there’s no time to dwell on the loss as the big games keep coming. Now Al-Hilal must find a way to bounce back and face their rivals in a decisive title.
5. Al-Feiha continues its positive trend
From 1986 to 2018, only five clubs have won the King’s Cup: Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Shabab, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli. However, the dominance of the big clubs, which is also the case elsewhere such as in England, has started to erode in recent times. Al-Taawoun won in 2019, Al-Faisaly lifted the trophy in 2021 and now it’s Al-Feiha’s turn. It shows that the so-called small teams are improving, and although they still struggle to live with the big ones over a long season, in one-off fixtures they have what it takes to win.
This is a positive development for Saudi football. When there is a path to glory, everyone is encouraged to aim as high as possible, which helps raise the bar across the country. And then there is the Asian Champions League. Al-Faisaly and Al-Taawoun appreciated their experiences on the continent which can only be very useful to them for the future. Next year it will be Al-Feiha’s turn to cross swords with international rivals. They have what it takes to shine in a tournament setting.