Goal.com Special: Saudi Arabia Season Preview

Hamad Bahrouh previews the new Saudi Arabia league season...
A thorough look into the Saudi Pro League for the upcoming season promises a lot of excitement and surprises, hotshot players and, as always, a look at the favourites.

As with every competition in the world there are always the top dogs followed by the underachievers and the relegation fighters.

The main rivals for the past decade have been Al-Hilal of Riyadh and arch enemies Al-Ittihad of Jeddah. These two teams have shared eight of the championships in past decade alone.

The remaining top spots are usually shared by Riyadh duo Al-Nasr and Al-Shabab and recent underachievers Al-Ahli(Jeddah), a team that once boasted superstars such as former Neuchatel Xamax of Switzerland defender Hussein Abdulghani who now plays for Al-Nasr as well as Khalid Mas’ad and Ahmad Soleimani.

Al-Ittihad are looking to build on last season which saw them clinch the title with a five point cushion over Al-Hilal.

The mixture of youth and experience always seems to work its magic as Al-Ittihad is gifted with depth as well as talent.    

They have brought in one of the most complete midfielders in Omani starlet Ahmed Hadid, an addition that enriches the midfield which consists of the local boys Manaf Abushgeer and Saud Khariri.  

That veterans like Redha Tukar and Talal Al-Meshal are warming the bench just about sums up the team’s talent.    

Their defensive line has the familiar national face of Osama Al Muwallad . They also boast the likes of Mohammad Noor in midfield and former Asian player of the year, towering defender Hamad Al-Montashari who played a vital role in the team's Asian triumphs in the middle of the decade.

All eyes will be on Naif Hazazi the number nine and heir to Yasser Al Qahtani in the national team. To further prove his case as an exceptional striker Hazazi will have to perform at the highest level. Much like Qahtani who performs well even if Hilal struggle, Hazazi’s reputation outside Saudi Arabia will remain low until he dazzles on the Asian stage and pushes Ittihad towards their third Asian title.    

At only 20 years of age Hazazi is quick, splits defences and has reasonably good dribbling skills. He probably is the sole reason the national team still have a chance for a World Cup berth as he has been sensational in the Qualifiers scoring game winning goals and filling the  void left by Al Qahtani.    

This season’s preparations have been more than satisfactory Al Ittihad has already played against the B teams of Real Madrid and Sevilla which they both won by a 1-0 score respectively. They also played a friendly with Real Madrid and drew 1-1 against the mighty Spanish club.     

Al Ittihad have also picked up a couple of good loan signings in Argentinian Luciano Leguizamon and Tunisia's Amine Chermiti.

Rivals Al Hilal, who had to endure a heartbreaking loss last season to Al-Ittihad on the last day to lose the title,  had their own preparations  - demolishing Birmingham City 3-0 and playing out an enthralling 2-2 draw with Austria’s Rapid Lens.

Newly appointed coach Belgian Eric Gerets is seemingly doing a good job with the Riyadh team and it is heavily expected to fight it out with Ittihad for the Saudi title.    

Hilal is the most popular club in Saudi Arabia with the largest fan base and golden boy Yasser Al Qahtani who is keen to join in the footsteps of Khalid Al Teemawi, Sami Al Jaber and  Yousef AlThunayan.

Unfortunately for Yasser, he has been off-form recently. Al-Hilal comes a very close second to Ittihad in terms of squad depth and national team players.

In terms of spending power Hilal dominates most of the other teams and it is no wonder that in their ranks reside internationals such as Christian Wilhelmsson, Thiago Neves and Korea’s Lee Young-Pyo.     

They also are able to keep their talented players like rock solid Osama Al-Hawsawi and pint sized Mohammad Al-Shalhoub.

Superstar Al Qahtani is also treated like an idol by most fans and that’s why he enjoys being in the city. Their recent stand out player however is the imposing Majed Al-Marshedi; the best player at the 2009 Gulf Cup in Oman. Standing over six feet tall, Marshedi is extremely athletic and excellent in the air. He sole-handedly guided Saudi Arabia to the final of that competition where they lost to Oman on penalties    

Aside of these two clubs Al Shabab might not have achieved a lot in the league, finishing 20 points behind Al Ittihad, but they did clinch the final champions league spot and they added the King Abdullah cup.

Their stand out players are the Otaif brothers who are also in the national squad and play one behind the other.

Abdoh plays further up than Ahmed in the midfield and supplies star striker Nasser Al Shamrani. A few good games and extra effort can see Al-Shabab break into the top three and improve on last season’s fourth place.

Al Shabab were able to capture former Hilal star Tarik El Taib. The Lybian could prove to be a star in midfield. Another African this time in former Al Ahly (Egypt) striker; Angolan Flavio should provide firepower in attack.

Al-Hassa club Al Fateh are in the top flight this year and are considered to be dark horses especially with the support of an eastern Saudi public eager to make their mark on the championship.

Al Ettifaq cannot be written off as well as they emerge from time to time and break into the top four while Al Nasr have signed former K-League player of the year and 2002 and 2006 World Cup star Lee Chun-soo.

With all these great teams vying for the title, the Saudi Pro-League will provide us with hunger, excitement and maybe even a few Saeed Al Owairan style goals.  

Hamad Bahrouh