Al Ittihad began their Saudi Pro League title defense with an emphatic 3-0 win over Al Raed on Monday while Al Hilal’s Malcom grabbed a hat-trick to secure a 3-1 win over Abha.
Al Ittihad, managed by Nuno Espirito Santo, lined up with Ballon d’Or winner and former Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema leading the line while N’Golo Kante and Fabinho anchored the midfield.
Benzema failed to score but after a goalless first half, the Frenchman grabbed an assist when Fabinho’s well-timed tackle in midfield launched a counter-attack and the striker found Abderrazak Hamdallah on the wing.
The Morocco forward, who scored 21 league goals last season, had missed a sitter from close range moments earlier but this time he composed himself, cut into the box beating two defenders and scored just before the hour mark.
Brazilian midfielder Igor Coronado then scored twice in six minutes – first playing a one-two and curling a shot past the despairing dive of Ahmad al-Harbi in the 73rd and then pouncing on a rebound off a long-range Kante strike to fire home.
Al Hilal, who are expected to sign Neymar from Paris St Germain this week, put the disappointment of their Arab Club Champions Cup final loss to Al Nassr on Saturday behind them to win their league opener at Abha.
Malcom opened the scoring just past the half-hour when Salem Aldawsari was released down the left channel, drawing the goalkeeper off his line, with the Saudi winger quickly finding the Brazilian who fired into an empty net.
Abha equalized two minutes later in spectacular fashion when skipper Saad Bguir picked up the ball from well outside the box and took a shot that looped over the keeper into the net.
However, Malcom restored Al Hilal’s lead 10 minutes after the break when keeper Devis Epassy failed to keep a low shot out as the ball trickled over the line. Malcom completed his treble when he set himself up for a volley into the bottom corner.
Al Ettifaq opened their campaign with a 2-1 win over last year’s runners-up Al Nassr, who fielded a weakened team and were without Cristiano Ronaldo after he came off injured following his double in Saturday’s final.
Two former Liverpool players — Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson — faced off wearing the captains’ armbands and it was Mane who opened the scoring inside four minutes for Al Nassr when the Senegal forward tapped the ball in from a cut-back.
But Steven Gerrard’s Al Ettifaq equalized early in the second half when goalkeeper Nawaf Alaqidi fumbled a cross and the ball fell kindly for Robin Quaison to score.
Al Ettifaq took the lead six minutes later when Alaqidi parried a cross straight to the feet of Moussa Dembele, who scored from close range.
Mane thought he had equalized late on with an angled volley, only to see the offside flag go up. The referee added 14 minutes of injury time but Al Ettifaq held on for the win.