RIYADH: It’s no surprise that Al-Hilal are favorites to defeat Al-Feiha in the King’s Cup final on Thursday night.
This is a team with over 60 titles and trophies to their credit, facing an opponent who has none. Still, the nine-time winners – only Al-Ahli with 13 has won more – won’t have it all in their own way at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah.
This is the biggest match in the history of Al-Feiha underdogs, and it will be a real battle royale, a montage of this tournament. Al-Hilal have had plenty of big games this season and have a few more to come, but there is something special about Saudi Arabia’s premier cup competition.
If years and decades of history are against Al-Feiha, then the past weeks and months are not. After all, they have already taken four points from Al-Hilal this season, more than most. There was a hard-fought 0-0 draw in December in Riyadh and then, on May 3, a famous 1-0 victory for Orange at home to the delight of their supporters.
Such results allowed Vuk Rasovic’s men to take a comfortable sixth place in the standings, allowing them to fully concentrate on the final. It has already been a great season for the club, but it could be much better.
The Serbian boss, who led Al-Faisaly to the 2018 final where they lost to Al-Ittihad, is ready.
Rasovic said: “We know our opponents well and we know they are the best team in Asia. We also know that we deserve to be here, and we will be physically and technically ready. I can say though that even though we know we have to be at our best defensively against Al-Hilal, we will play to win.
The odds may be against Al-Feiha, but they have Aleksandar Trajkovski in their line-up, the striker who caused a stir in March when he scored the goal for North Macedonia that ended AS hopes. Italy, champions of Europe, to appear at the 2022 World Cup. Few know better that anything can happen on the pitch. His exploits have been well noted in Europe, as has the fact that the team has a Serbian coach and a Serbian goalkeeper in the person of Vladimir Stojkovic. The former Red Star Belgrade and Nottingham Forest No.1 has had a great season between the posts and the club’s decision to sign the veteran star in 2021 has been vindicated.
“You can imagine that I’m sure a year ago it wasn’t easy to convince the administration to sign a 38-year-old goalkeeper, but I did it because I know him well, I know his quality and how very professional he is and works very hard in training,” added Rasovic, who took Partizan Belgrade to the Serbian league championship in 2013.
A few days before came another example of how Al-Feiha can mingle with the best by beating league leaders Al-Ittihad 1-0 in the semi-finals. Both games showed they could take a chance and hold off the best strikers in Saudi Arabia, probably the best strikers in Asia.
“Of course it’s not easy to play against these two teams but if you analyze what we have done this season, you can see that we are a stubborn opponent when we play against the big teams,” Rasovic said.
This is confirmed by the fact that Al-Feiha have conceded only 22 league goals this season, less than any other team.
Such defensive strength means it could be a frustrating night for the league champions. When the two teams met earlier this month, Al-Hilal was kept at bay while Sami Al-Khaibari returned a corner kick after 33 minutes to score the game’s only goal. Al-Feiha thinks his opponents are vulnerable to crosses into the box.
With that in mind, at least his counterpart Ramon Diaz will be pleased that centre-back Ali Al-Bulaihi has had a few extra days to recover from injury following the postponement of the final round of league fixtures this weekend. It meant the huge top of the table Clasico against Al-Ittihad would have to wait until Monday, but bought a weary squad some time.
Full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani is also expected to be fit. There are still a few absences, but with attacking players such as Odion Ighalo, Moussa Marega and Matheus Pereira fit and eager to go, Al-Hilal should have the firepower to test the opposition’s miserly defense to win. another major trophy.
“I’m very happy with the rest we had before playing this final,” Diaz said, adding that there were no weak teams when it came to the final. “The game will be decided by what happens on the pitch and not by expectations.”
The Argentine boss was understandably keen on dismissing league results between the two teams this season.
“We lacked concentration in this encounter, but now we want to win the cup for our fans. In the final, either you win or you get nothing, and we have to be at our best and concentrate more and reduce the mistakes made.
In what will likely be a close game, the team with the fewest errors could end up with their hands on the trophy. Al-Hilal has dozens but Al-Feiha is looking for a first Copa del Rey.