RIYADH: Saudi Arabian champions Al-Hilal have moved quickly at the start of 2022 to strengthen their overworked squad, although it remains to be seen whether it comes early enough to save their title defense.
The defending champions have signed international goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais from Al-Ahli and then former Saudi Arabia right-back Abdulrahman Al-Obaid from Al-Nassr. These additions may not make the kind of headlines that the big-name foreign arrivals command, but they will stand the Riyadh giants in good stead going forward.
It is understandable that coach Leonardo Jardim is looking to add players as there are plenty of demands on his squad in the coming weeks and months.
Next month there is the FIFA Club World Cup and a chance for the Saudi Arabian powerhouse to take on Chelsea in the semi-final, as long as they defeat probable quarter-final opponents Al-Jazira of the UAE.
Al-Hilal fans say theirs is the biggest club in Asia and, with a record four continental championships and a social media following of over 10 million, one that even some of Europe’s top teams can’t match, it is a persuasive argument. It means, however, that the 17-time champions will, and should, take the Club World Cup seriously. If they could become the first Asian representative to defeat Europe’s, it would make headlines around the world and be a great advert for Saudi Arabian and Asian football.
And then there is the AFC Champions League.
Al-Hilal, once again correctly, always set great store by performing well in Asia’s flagship tournament. There are going to be tough games in May and with only the top team in each group certain of a place in the knockout stages, there are unlikely to be many opportunities to rest players or take things easy.
And then there are four very important World Cup qualifiers in January, February and March for the national team with good results securing a place in Qatar. Al-Hilal will be providing a healthy proportion of the Green Falcons for the climax of the qualification campaign.
It all means lots of demands on the Al-Hilal squad and the addition of more players will be welcomed by fans. The team already has good goalkeepers and full-backs, but Al-Owais and Al-Obaid should get their chance to show what they can do in the famous blue shirt sooner or later.
It is looking increasingly unlikely, however, that the new signings will be collecting a championship medal come the end of the season. While Al-Hilal were lifting the Super Cup last Thursday, after a hard-fought win over Al-Faisaly that went to a penalty shootout, it can’t have escaped the attention of fans and media that this was another week in which the champions were in action in a cup competition while their rivals for the Saudi title were chalking off another game in the league season.
The day following that entertaining Super Cup clash, Al-Ittihad were defeating Al-Feiha 2-0 to make it six wins out of six in the league.
That run has taken the Tigers onto 35 points after 15 games, exactly halfway through the season. One place and three points behind are Al-Shabab, who have played a game more, with …….