JEDDAH: Despite a worrying injury to star player Omar Abdulrahman, Al-Hilal maintained their perfect start to the Saudi Pro League season with a 1-0 win at Al-Shabab at the weekend to keep the pressure on early leaders Al-Nassr.
Abdulrahman, who joined the Riyadh giants in August on a one-year loan deal, was carried off in some distress after 12 minutes at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium. The UAE international looked to be in considerable pain after stretching to reach the ball in the Al-Shabab area.
“‘Amoory’ will have to undergo tests to see how serious the injury is,” an Al-Hilal official told Arab News, adding that the player’s national team have expressed concern with the 2019 Asian Cup kicking off in early January. “We have already talked to the UAE team staff but we will have to wait and see.”
Despite the early setback, the defending champions dug in and took the three points thanks to a second-half strike from Mohammed Kanoo, who dedicated the victory to their injured team-mate. “We won the game for ‘Amoory’,” Kanoo said after the game. “We hope that this win helps him to achieve a complete and speedy recovery.”
The victory gave Al-Hilal five wins from five games this season to move three points behind Al-Nassr, who have managed six from six. “It was a tough game but an important win for us,” Kanoo added. “We need to keep going and keep collecting points.”
The injury to their key playmaker adds to other injury worries for coach Jorge Jesus. The team has already been without Saudi Arabia international Nawaf Al-Abed and star striker Bafetimbi Gomis, who headed to Turkey on Sunday morning to check the condition of a groin injury picked up ahead of the recent Saudi-Egypt Super Cup final against Zamalek.
Al-Shabab, reduced to ten men on the hour with the dismissal of Brazilian defender Euller, were left to rue missed chances against the defending champions.
“We defended well today and also played well on the counter-attack,” said Al-Shabab goalkeeper Fabrouk Ben Mustapha. “It was a good performance. We had the opportunities but were just not able to take them.”
The win keeps the pressure on leaders Al-Nassr, who claimed a 2-0 victory at Al-Batin on Friday. An early own goal from Lucas set the visitors on their way and the three points were sealed with a second-half strike from Abderrazak Hamdallah.
It was an even more impressive victory given that Al-Nassr were without influential winger Ahmed Musa. The Nigerian international, who joined in the summer from Leicester City and has been one of the best performers of the season so far, was given leave to travel home to visit his sick mother.
Coach Jose Daniel Carreno paid tribute to his players. “There are no easy games in this league,” the Uruguayan said. “We had to show our determination and stay cohesive and organized to take the win.”
The former Al-Shabab boss is not getting carried away by his team’s impressive start. “We are going well at the moment and it is great to be picking up points like this. There is still a long way to go and there are a number of strong teams in the league.”
Both Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr were given a boost as title rivals Al-Ahli suffered their first defeat of the season on Saturday, a shock 6-2 thrashing at the hands of Al-Ittifaq, who climbed up to fifth in the table.
That loss saw the Jeddah club drop down to third with 13 points, two behind Al-Hilal and five behind the leaders. Elsewhere in the league, Al-Ittihad stayed bottom of the league with a 1-1 draw at home to Ohod in the first game under new coach Slaven Bilic. The Tigers are next in action on Thursday with a trip to rivals Al-Hilal.