Reigning Roshn Saudi League champions Al Ittihad make history this week, by becoming the first club to represent the Kingdom as hosts at the FIFA Club World Cup.
Here’s how Saudi teams have fared in the intercontinental competition to this point, as Al Ittihad get set to welcome Oceania champions Auckland City FC to King Abdullah Sports City in the opener on Tuesday night.
Al Nassr (Brazil, 2000)
Back then called the FIFA Club World Championship, the inaugural version of the FIFA Club World Cup comprised eight teams, with Al Nassr representing Asia.
The Riyadh club then entered the record books by making up one half of the competition’s first-ever match, taking on a Real Madrid side containing Iker Casillas, Fernando Hierro, Roberto Carlos, Fernando Redondo and Raul.
The Spanish giants ran out 3-1 winners in Sao Paulo, with Raul and Nicolas Anelka among the scorers. Fahad Al Harifi had initially equalised for Al Nassr from the spot, scoring the first-ever Saudi goal in the competition.
Given the tournament was at first split into two groups of four, Al Nassr did defeat Morocco’s Raja Casablanca 4-3 – Moussa Saib got the winner - before losing 2-0 to Corinthians. They finished third in Group A.
Al Ittihad (Japan, 2005)
After a five-year hiatus, the tournament returned in a slightly different model. With six teams now, each a winner of their regional football confederation, the format was revised to a knockout tournament.
As back-to-back Asian champions, Al Ittihad had secured a spot, and the Jeddah side kicked off the tournament in Tokyo with 1-0 win against Egyptian giants Al Ahly at the Olympic Stadium. Mohammed Noor got the game’s only goal.
Al Ittihad’s chances of a place in the final ended in the last four, though, when they were beaten 3-2 at the same venue by South American champions Sao Paulo in a thrilling encounter.
However, Al Ittihad’s tournament was not yet over: they lost out narrowly on third place after losing to two late goals to Costa Rican side Saprissa in Yokohama, but wrote their name in the history books as the first Asian side to reach the semi-final.
Al Hilal (Qatar, 2019)
After 14 years without a representative, Saudi Arabia was back at the now seven-team Club World Cup thanks to Al Hilal’s AFC Champions League success less than three weeks earlier.
The Riyadh club therefore arrived in Qatar in a confident mood and entered the tournament in the second round. There, they defeated African champions Esperance de Tunis 1-0 at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, with the red-hot Bafetimbi Gomis sealing his side’s progression.
However, Al Hilal could not get past a formidable Flamengo in the semi-finals, despite going a goal up through Salem Al Dawsari. The Brazilian heavyweights, fresh from their recent Copa Libertadores victory, eventually ran out 3-1 winners, with Ali Al Baylahi scoring an unfortunate own goal.
Al Hilal then lost a gripping play-off for third to Monterrey, the Mexicans winning on penalties after the match finished 2-2.
Al Hilal (UAE, 2021)
Back again as the No.1 side in Asia, Al Hilal travelled to the nearby Emirates only a few months after defeating Pohang Steelers to win a record fourth continental crown.
Their superiority at Asian level immediately told, when Leonardo Jardim’s side blew away hosts Al Jazira 6-1 to book a semi-final slot. Intriguingly, Al Hilal had gone a goal down at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, but rebounded with six different scorers.
In the last four at the same venue, they went up against European champions Chelsea, although they were denied a repeat result by Romelu Lukaku’s first-half effort. The 1-0 win was enough to send the Premier League outfit through to the final, and Al Hilal into the play-off for third.
Clearly running on empty after their incredible effort against Chelsea, the Riyadh club were beaten 4-0 by Egypt’s Al Ahly in the UAE capital three days later.
Al Hilal (Morocco, 2022)
With the 2022 AFC Champions League taking place over two seasons, and Al Hilal still the holders, they represented the continent in the tournament in Tangier and Rabat.
The Riyadh club cast aside poor domestic form to defeat hosts Wydad Casablanca on penalties in the second round – the match finished 1-1 thanks to Mohammed Kanno’s 94th minute penalty – before they upset Flamengo 3-2 in the semi-final.
Al Hilal overcome Wydad on penalties to set up clash with Flamengo in the #ClubWC Semi-finals! 🇸🇦— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) February 4, 2023
Salem Al Dawsari struck twice from the spot against the Copa Libertadores champions to become the highest Asian scorer in the competition’s history, with Luciano Vietto’s goal proving decisive in Tangier. In winning, Al Hilal made history by becoming the first Saudi Arabian side to reach the final – and only the third Asian club overall.
In the showpiece against Real Madrid, Ramon Diaz’s men put in a performance full of passion and pride, eventually losing 5-3. Karim Benzema – now captain at Al Ittihad – was among the scorers as Madrid sealed a fifth Club World Cup, while Moussa Marega and Vietto, again, netted for Al Hilal. The Argentine, currently plying his trade in the First Division League, with Al Qadisiyah, won the Bronze Ball of the tournament.