Football Features

Al Hilal team preview: The AFC Champions League’s most successful side gear up for another Club World Cup

By Ben Green

Published: 13:30, 6 February 2023

Al Hilal are in the Club World Cup as winners of the AFC Champions League, but this year it’s slightly different.

The Saudi Arabian side won the Champions League in 2020/21 and have already taken part in the Club World Cup for that victory, finishing fourth in 2021. But as the 2021/22 AFC Champions League has not yet been completed, Al Hilal are back as AFC’s chosen representatives.

Five things to know about Al Hilal…

  • Al Hilal are the most successful club in AFC Champions League history (four) — the competition that grants you access to the Club World Cup.
  • They are currently managed by Ramon Diaz, who is in his second spell at the club and previously led River Plate to Copa Libertadores glory.
  • They’ve had a host of household names rock up in Riyadh, including Brazilian legends Mario Zagallo and Roberto Rivelino, Andrey Kanchelskis, Sebastian Giovinco, Bafetimbi Gomis, Jonathan Soriano and Ali Al-Habsi.
  • Al Hilal are the most-decorated side in Saudi Arabia, winning a record 17 Professional League trophies, including four of the previous five.
  • They currently have Odion Ighalo, Moussa Marega and Andre Carrillo on the books.

Al Hilal’s best player?

Odion Ighalo has now bad one full year as an Al Hilal player, and the former Manchester United man is leading the line pretty well. Signed from Al Shabab last year, Ighalo has already scored 26 goals in 36 games for Al Hilal across all competitions, including one in last year’s Club World Cup as the Saudi side secured a fourth-placed finish.

This season, the Nigerian has nine goals in 14 games across all competitions including eight in the league as Al Hilal search for a fourth-consecutive league title, extending their dominance.

Who is Al Hilal’s manager?

When Al Hilal took part in the 2021 Club World Cup, they were led by Leonardo Jardim but he left shortly after the tournament, sacked and replaced on February 14th 2022. He was replaced by Ramon Diaz, back for his second spell in charge of Al Hilal, having previously taken the reins in 2016-2018. During that run, Diaz was in charge of 65 games and won 42, with just six defeats and 17 draws, securing a league and cup double.

Forty games into his second spell and Diaz has already secured a second league title, winning the 2021/22 Saudi Pro League, but he lost the King’s Cup final. Al Hilal are still in the 2022 AFC Champions League too, finishing top of their group ahead of Al-Rayyan only on head-to-head goal difference, setting up a last 16 tie with Shabab Al-Ahli.

Overall, in his second spell, Diaz has 29 wins and five defeats from 40 games, and Diaz will be hoping to make it 30 before this tournament is over – whether that be a shock win over Flamengo or securing third.

How will Al Hilal line up?

Although he has dithered from time to time, Daiz very much utilises the 4-3-3 at Al Hilal and that is how he lined up for the penalty-shootout victory over Wydad Casablanca in the second round.

A team full of internationals, three of Al Hilal’s back five in the second round represented Saudi Arabia at the World Cup, with goalkeeper Adbullah Al-Mayouf retired, and centre-back Jang Hyun-soo banned from represented South Korea.

In the midfield three, Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohamed Kanno are usually joined by Gustavo Cuellar but the latter was sent off in the win over Wydad Casablanca so has to be replaced against Flamengo. Up front, Ighalo leads the line with former Porto man Moussa Marega and Michael playing off him.