RIYADH: Neymar may have headed home to Brazil after the birth of his daughter, but the megastar was barely missed as Al-Hilal went top of the Roshn Saudi League with a 3-0 win at Al-Okhdood on Saturday and will stay at the summit over the international break.

After nine games of the season, Jorge Jesus’s men are still unbeaten with 23 points, one above the impressive Al-Taawoun in second. Then there are three teams on 19: Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli, who won the Jeddah derby on Friday.

Seeing champions Al-Ittihad lose must have galvanized Al-Hilal, who returned from Iran on Wednesday morning after an impressive win against Nassaji Mazandaran, during which Neymar scored his first goal for the club.

Even without the former Barcelona man, the opening goal had a strong Brazilian flavor. Malcom slipped the ball through a crowded area to find Michael on the right side and he shot across the goalkeeper to find the opposite corner. It was a finish that Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud of, and the celebration was very reminiscent of the Al-Nassr forward, the league’s leading goalscorer.

After a slow start to the season, Al-Okhdood had won two of the previous four in the league and had chances, but were always going to find it difficult against the 18-time champions. It got worse just before the break as the hosts were reduced to 10 men. At the start of added time, Saeed Al-Rubaie picked up a yellow card. By the time the first half ended, he had managed to collect a second for a rash and unnecessary challenge on Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and was off.

The second half was looking like a comfortable one for the Blues and it started perfectly. Ruben Neves sent over a cross from the right for Aleksandar Mitrovic to head home, but after a look at the pitchside monitor, the referee ruled it out.

Al-Hilal continued to push forward and soon after Malcom shot just over from the right side of the six-yard box. It was not a costly miss. With 19 minutes remaining, Salem Al-Dawsari found Mitrovic in the area and the former Fulham forward sidefooted the ball to Milinkovic-Savic who smashed it home. It was the Serbian’s first goal for the club and sealed the three points and top spot.

There was still excitement to come. Three minutes later, Al-Dawsari almost scored what would surely have been the goal of the round and a contender for the best of the season. The Saudi Arabian international picked up possession inside his own half, beat three defenders but his shot from the edge of the area was deflected just wide of the left-hand post.

Al-Dawsari was on a mission and moved into the area with intent, flicking the ball over Solomon Kvirkvelia only to be brought down. His penalty was saved by Paulo Vitor but Milinkovic-Savic fired home the rebound to complete a comfortable win for the visitors from Riyadh.

Now they return back to the capital as the only team not to lose and as the team that will stay at the top until after the upcoming international break. When Neymar returns to action, they may take some dislodging.


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