Saudi Pro League giants Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr face off in the Riyadh Season Cup final – a friendly tournament during mid-season – at the Kingdom Arena on Thursday night.
Both squads have earned their spots in the final after defeating Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami in their first games.
Al-Hilal ended 2023 on a high with a 20-game win streak across all competitions, netting 60 goals, and opened 2024 with an exciting 4-3 win against Inter Miami just over a week ago.
Messi and Luis Suarez scored for the MLS team, but Al-Hilal secured the win with an 88th-minute goal from Malcom, following earlier goals from Alexander Mitrovic, Abdullah Al-Hamddan, and Michael.
Jorge Jesus aims for his team to use a victory over city rivals Al-Nassr in the Riyadh Season Cup as momentum for more success this year, targeting wins in the Saudi Pro League, King’s Cup, and AFC Champions League.
They’ve beaten Al-Nassr, their nearest competitors, in three of their last five encounters, including a 3-0 win in December.
Following that loss, Al-Nassr went on a seven-match unbeaten run, winning six and scoring 27 goals. They’re coming into Thursday’s match confident after a 6-0 win against Inter Miami, their largest victory this season, even without Cristiano Ronaldo. Anderson Talisca scored three times, with additional goals from Otavio, Mohammed Maran, and Aymeric Laporte.
Al-Nassr looks to keep up their good form before facing Al Feiha in the AFC Champions League last-16, hoping to win the competition for the first time.
Although Al-Nassr has won only two of their last eight matches against Al-Hilal, they beat them in their last final encounter, winning 2-1 in extra time with 10 men, with Ronaldo scoring twice to claim their first-ever Arab Club Champions Cup last August.
Al-Hilal is without Neymar due to an ACL injury but could see up to 12 players return from international duty.
Nine Saudi players, Moroccan goalie Yassine Bounou, Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly, and Mauritanian midfielder Khadim Diaw may return after their national teams were knocked out of competitions.
Renan Lodi, who debuted last time, is expected to keep his spot at left-back, with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Ruben Neves, and Mitrovic, who has 25 goals in 26 games this season, likely to start.
For Al-Nassr, Ronaldo, who missed the last game with an injury and celebrated his 39th birthday on Monday, is set to return. He has 24 goals in 25 games this season.
Sadio Mane might play after AFCON, potentially joining Ronaldo, Talisca, and Otavio upfront, which could see Maran and Abdulaziz Al-Aliwa benched.
David Ospina, back from an elbow injury, is doubtful for Thursday after a muscle issue, possibly replaced by Waleed Abdullah or Nawaf Al-Aqidi.
Al-Hilal possible starting lineup:
Al Shahrani, Al Dawsari, Koulibaly, Lodi;
Michael, Al-Hamdan, Malcom;
Al-Nassr possible starting lineup:
Boushal, Alamri, Laporte, Telles;
Al Sulaiheem, Brozovic;
Talisca, Otavio, Mane;
Prediction: Al-Hilal 2-2 Al-Nassr (Al-Hilal to win on penalties)
This match promises to be an engaging battle between two teams eager to attack, especially with key players returning.
Al-Hilal, looking for revenge after their previous final loss to Al-Nassr, might have the edge in this contest, possibly winning through a penalty shootout.