Jeddah rivals lock horns in battle for continental football

The race for a place in the AFC Champions League Elite reaches its pinnacle on Monday evening when eternal rivals Al Ahli and Al Ittihad lock horns in the Jeddah derby at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium - with just two points separating the pair in the Roshn Saudi League table.

A dramatic encounter against Steven Gerrard’s Al Ettifaq on Friday saw Al Ahli leave it late to rescue a solitary point in Dammam after Feras Al Buraikan scored in both nets. Seko Fofana’s strike had Al Ettifaq ahead until the 88th minute only for Al Ahli left-back Abdullah Al Ammar to slot home from Riyad Mahrez’s fine through ball to save his team from a second consecutive defeat.

In the heat of the moment, it might have felt like a point earned for Al Ahli, but Matthias Jaissle’s side will feel the true value of the two dropped when they take on their cross-city rivals on Monday, with the margin between the teams slashed to two points.

Defending champions Al Ittihad now have a chance to overtake their neighbours into third should they manage to extend their three-match winning run. Their latest victory came at home at the expense of Al Fayha, also on Friday. Despite a missed penalty from Karim Benzema, goals from Abderrazak Hamdallah and youngster Marwan Al Sahafi either side of a Goal of the Week winning strike from Ahmed Al Ghamdi earned the Tigers a 3-1 win and took them within touching distance of their upcoming opponents.

Marcelo Gallardo’s men will have an extra incentive, if they needed any, having lost the reverse fixture back in October to a Franck Kessie goal. Al Ittihad have lost the both legs of the derby on only two occasions since the launch of the Saudi Pro League in 2008-09.

Both teams feature significant threats up front, with Hamdallah and Al Buraikan finding the back of the net in the previous matchweek. The Moroccan forward took his tally to 18 this season as he inches closer to Omar Al Somah’s record as the RSL’s all time top scorer. Meanwhile, Al Ahli counterpart Al Buraikan continues to be the highest-scoring Saudi player in this season's competition, with 13.