Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly clash in ‘Arab Classico’ at FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly clash in ‘Arab Classico’ at FIFA Club World Cup

Saturday’s “Arab Classico” between AL-Hilal and Al-Ahly might be a pleasant and exciting bonus for football fans in the region, but it presents something of a headache for the coaches — especially for Al-Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim, whose Saudi champions are suddenly looking at an unforgiving fixture list.Egypt’s Al-Ahly are the most successful team in African football with 10 continental titles.

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal are the most successful team in Asian football with four continental titles. Many would say this third and fourth-placed play-off between the two teams at the FIFA Club World Cup is the biggest meeting ever between Arab clubs in Asia and Africa, and there are plenty of bragging rights at stake. 

Both teams are emerging from semifinal defeats at the tournament. Al-Ahly got past Monterrey of Mexico but then lost 2-0 to South American champions Palmeiras on Tuesday. Al-Hilal thrashed Al-Jazira of the UAE 6-1 and then lost 1-0 to Chelsea on Wednesday.

After falling behind in the first half, the Riyadh giants rallied after the break to give the European titleholders a real scare. Al-Hilal earned plenty of plaudits from their performance, though the higher profile of the opposition helped, and have a chance to finish third and become the first Saudi Arabian team to do so.

Al-Ahly earned sympathy after missing a number of players due to the scheduling clash between FIFA’s competition and the African Cup of Nations where Egypt reached the final last Sunday. Jardim knows that there is still plenty of talent in the ranks of the Red Giants, however.

“I went to watch the Palmeiras match with Al-Ahly, and I think it’s a team with quality and technical skills,” Jardim said.

“They like to take on the match. It would be a good fight, I’m sure. This is not the match we wanted to play; we wanted to play the final. But it will be a good match.” As good as it may be, it presents a dilemma for Al-Hilal. This Arab Classico is a big game, but Al-Hilal have just played two big games in the last few days and, more importantly, there are big games to come. In the long-term, these are what will determine the fate of Jardim.

Al-Ahly are also busy but will return home to Cairo, a domestic season that is just getting going and a league in which they are first. The Saudi Professional League is at a very different stage, however. It is two-thirds completed for most teams, though Al-Hilal have games in hand due to their continental and global commitments.