Al-Ittihad began its Saudi Pro League title defence 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 is expected to sign Neymar from Paris St Germain this week, put the disappointment of its Arab Club Champions Cup final loss to Al-Nassr on Saturday behind it to win its 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 equalised 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.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr are in action later on Monday against Al-Ettifaq, who are managed by Steven Gerrard.
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