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Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants lift 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title

RIYADH: Al-Hilal are Saudi Arabian champions again, having at one point looked dead and buried as Jeddah rivals Al-Ittihad held a seemingly insurmountable 16-point lead over them.

But the giants of Riyadh are not champions of Asia and the Kingdom for nothing and have proven that they remain the worthy champions of the country.

The 2021-22 Saudi Professional League season wrapped up on Monday night, and here are five things – and there could be many, many more – from the campaign’s final action.

1. Winning is in Al-Hilal’s DNA

Three straight wins make it a total of 18. Love them or hate them – and there are plenty in both groups – there’s no denying that Al-Hilal know how to win games and titles.

Eleven wins out of the last 12 is an incredible run, especially after a demanding season with commitments in the FIFA Club World Cup and the Asian Champions League. They usually find a way to find a way.

The 2-1 victory over Al-Faisaly summed up what has been a spectacular campaign. There has been so much added-time action this season, so many late winners and controversies, and Monday was no different.

Al-Hilal can win but they don’t always make it easy. There was a goal in each half from Odion Ighalo, which was razor sharp and showed why he finished as the league’s top scorer, but Dammam’s men salvaged a goal and the fans of Al-Hilal then had a lot of nerves.

The game and the season ended after 100 minutes, with the referee standing by the pitchside monitor and considering a possible penalty for Al-Faisaly. It was not cheap and that was it. It was a fitting way to end an incredible season.

2. Al-Ittihad will never forget him

This fact will be repeated in the years to come; Al-Ittihad were 16 points ahead of Al-Hilal in February and they finished two points behind when it mattered.

Nobody could have predicted that Al-Hilal would take 33 points from the last 36 available, but even so the Tigers had it in the bag. Then they’ve gone down 13 points in the last eight games and that’s not the form of champions. The 0-0 draw with struggling Al-Batin in the last game of the season summed it all up.

They had so much attacking talent in Igor Coronado, Abderrazak Hamdallah and Romarinho, but they just couldn’t get there and the game, similar to the season, fizzled out with disappointment. As well as the two recent defeats against the champions, coach Cosmin Contra will look back on that 4-4 draw with Al-Feiha in May, when the side blew a 3-1 lead as a turning point. This meant there were only five points from the last five games.

The wait for the title now dates back to 2009. It hurts, as goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe’s tears showed at the end, and that too, but in football there is always next season.

3. Al-Ahli writes an unthinkable story

A 0–0 draw at Al-Shabab resulted in Al-Ahli’s relegation for the first time in their history. It is truly shocking that the three-time champions, the last triumph just six years ago, and two-time runners-up from Asia are now down to second place.

Two years ago they were third, then eighth, and now 15th – the drift has arrived. There have been reports of locker room turmoil in the past, of coaches coming and going, then injuries at unfortunate times, and when you throw a bad start with five points in the first seven games, then can Maybe ultimate relegation shouldn’t be so important. shock.

Had they won any of the four draws in the last five, things would have been different. This time, even the reliable Omar Al-Somah couldn’t save them despite a talented supporting cast that included Ezgjan Alioski, Carlos Eduardo, Abdulrahman Ghareeb and many more.

For a club that has drifted, relegation might be the wake-up call it needs, but maybe not. The next few weeks will be difficult.

4. The relegation battle was quietly dramatic

Heading into the final round of games, seven teams were truly at risk of relegation. It was an incredible position for the league and there were so many twists and turns.

It wasn’t quite the last explosive day the neutrals were hoping for as there weren’t many goals, with only 14 scored in the eight games.

But there was a quiet drama and tension. At any time, if Al-Ahli had scored, they would have come out of the bottom three. If Al-Faisaly had managed one more, they would have done the same. If Ettifaq had only conceded once against Al-Feiha, they would have fallen. If Al-Ittihad had scored, it would have spelled the end for Al-Batin.

Rarely have so many stakes been put on the line for so many teams in the last seconds of the season. The season was long, more than 10 months, but it was alive until the end.

5. Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab not far away

For much of the season, the two Riyadh sides were in touch at the top and it was only the incredible winning streaks, first of Al-Ittihad and then of Al-Hilal, that took them out of the game. hunt.

In the end though, Al-Nassr finished just four points behind second-placed Jeddah and six behind the champions. With the club set to appoint French manager Rudi Garcia, next season should be an interesting one, and there will be plenty of fans looking to see if the club can keep hold of Talisca, who scored 20 goals in his first season in Saudi Arabia. . Recovering from injury, Pity Martinez has started to show the talents that made him a big-money signing in 2020.

Al-Shabab know what it’s like to lose big players after top scorer Odion Ighalo left for Al-Hilal at the end of January and a fourth-place finish seems about right as they lacked a bit of consistency. These third- and fourth-place teams need to retain their greatest talents and recruit well in the coming weeks. Then they should be ready for a title challenge next time. This year, they weren’t far behind.