King's Cup between Al Hilal and Al Nassr fitting finale to superb 2023-24 season

It feels fitting that the concluding match of the domestic Saudi Arabian football season brings together the top two clubs in the Kingdom.

Friday’s King’s Cup final, the showpiece fixture on the calendar, pits against one another the 2023-24 Roshn Saudi League champions and its runners-up. It just so happens to be the Riyadh derby, when cross-city rivals Al Hilal and Al Nassr do battle in Jeddah.

For Al Hilal, there is more on the line than the country’s most coveted cup. Unbeaten domestically this season, Jorge Jesus’ side won 31 and drew three of their RSL matches and, added to their title success in the Saudi Super Cup, will be intent on ending the campaign blemish free.

That they have the opportunity to secure that particular feat at the expense of their chief adversaries should only focus the mind. Bragging rights, as well as the glittering King’s Cup, would be a rather nice way to sign off a record-breaking season.

As no doubt Jesus will be telling his players, though, the target should be firmly on hoisting aloft a third trophy of the 2023-24 campaign. Al Hilal come into the clash at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium as the reigning cup holders - they are contesting a third successive final - after sealing a 10th crown, and first in three years, last year.

There, they defeated Al Wehda in a dramatic penalty shootout. Now in double figures for King’s Cup crowns, they sit behind only Al Ahli (13) in the all-time list.

Al Nassr, meanwhile, find themselves in fourth spot, with six. However, the club will not need reminding that their most recent success in the competition came way back then, in 1990, when they saw off Al Taawoun in the final. The win secured a third King’s Cup in five years. The well has been dry since.

There has been an agonising wait for a seventh King's Cup. Al Nassr have been back to the showpiece four times between 1990 and now, losing two of those to Al Hilal, in 2015 and 2020. Maybe it is their time to shine.

If they are to, then much will fall on captain Cristiano Ronaldo’s shoulders. The Portuguese star showed again this season that time has still not caught up with him; at age 39, he finished the 2023-24 RSL as its top scorer, with 35 goals in 31 appearances.

The haul constituted a single-season record for the Saudi top flight. Used to making history, Ronaldo’s 11 league assists carried him to 46 goal contributions in all – another unprecedented mark in the RSL.

The game’s most recognisable name won’t have it all to do himself on Friday, though. In the likes of Sultan Al Ghannam, Ali Lajami, Alex Telles, Marcelo Brozovic, Otavio, Abdulrahman Ghareeb and Sadio Mane, he has a more than able support cast.

Although, Al Hilal’s squad is crammed full of talent, too. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Malcom, Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Kalidou Koulibaly and Yassine Bono have all completed dazzling debut seasons in the RSL.

With 28 goals in as many matches, Mitrovic finished runner-up to Ronaldo in the scoring charts, while Malcom struck 15 times in the RSL. In midfield, metronome Neves came home second in assists for the 203-24 league season, behind only Al Ahli’s Riyad Mahrez, with 12. Teammate Milinkovic-Savic registered 10.

At the back, Koulibaly helped Bono to 15 clean sheets and a league-best 23 goals conceded, ensuring the Moroccan won RSL Goalkeeper of the Season.

Ally a formidable foreign contingent with some of Saudi’s finest – Salem Al Dawsari is the reigning AFC Player of the Year, Mohammed Kanno one of the Kingdom’s standout midfielders and Saud Abdulhamid likewise at full-back – and this is why Friday night in the second city shapes up for a thrilling curtain-closer.

That the three meetings this season have provided two victories for Al Hilal and a draw sets up this King’s Cup final superbly.

So, what shall it be? Al Hilal remaining undefeated, trophy No 3 in the bag, or Al Nassr having the last laugh. Either way, it makes for must-see viewing.