RSL thrillers: five of the 2023-24 season's most memorable matches

The 2023-24 Roshn Saudi League was one for the history books, and appropriately threw up some instant classic encounters.

With the Saudi Arabian top flight providing a new record for the highest number of goals scored in a single season (909), with the highest tally scored in the final 15 minutes of matches (238), there was no shortage of games in the running to make this list.

After much deliberation, we select five of the most memorable matches to play out in 2023-24.

Al Ittihad 3-4 Al Hilal (September 1, Matchweek 5)

The season’s first huge clash delivered – and then some. Al Ittihad, the defending champions, welcomed to Jeddah a team expected to be one of their principal title challengers, for a clash labelled the “Saudi Clasico”.

Both sides had made unbeaten starts to the campaign, with Al Ittihad sitting top of the table. Predictably, then, an encounter for the ages then played out at the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium.

Al Ittihad struck first, through Romarinho on 16 minutes and, when Aleksandar Mitrovic equalised four minutes later with a spectacular volley, a see-saw match seemed set.

However, Karim Benzema restored the hosts’ advantage in the 38th minute, before strike partner Abderrazak Hamdallah added Al Ittihad’s third in the eighth minute of first-half injury-time. The reigning RSL champions went into the break 3-1, a massive victory apparently on the cards.

How that changed, though. Mitrovic halved the deficit right on the hour, then converted from the penalty spot five minutes later. By the 71st minute, Al Hilal had remarkably seized the lead, with Saudi standout Salem Al Dawsari poking home a close-range volley.

Incredibly, the visitors had done it. They won 4-3 to leapfrog Al Ittihad at the summit. Jorge Jesus' side had laid down a serious marker for the season.

Al Nassr 4-3 Al Ahli (September 22, Matchweek 7)

Not content with one seven-goal thriller to begin the season with a bang, RSL fans had to wait only two rounds for the next. This time, Al Awwal Park played host, as sixth-placed Al Nassr hosted Al Ahli - the team directly above them in the standings.

Keen to signal their intent, Cristiano Ronaldo got things going with a goal on four minutes, collecting a Sadio Mane pass and drilling a shot low past Al Ahli goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. Mendy even complained he couldn’t see the ball through the smoke unleashed at kick-off by flares.

Anderson Talisca doubled Al Nassr’s lead 13 minutes later, but Al Ahli grabbed one back on the half hour, through former AC Milan and Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie.

There was still enough, however, in first-half injury-time for Al Nassr to take back their two-goal advantage, when Talisca curled a beautiful effort into the Al Ahli goal via the underside of the crossbar.

But, five minutes into the second half, Riyad Mahrez converted a penalty to give the visitors hope. It was short-lived, though, Ronaldo pouncing on a loose ball to evade a marker and drive his shot past Mendy. It made it nine goals in five 2023-24 RSL games for the Al Nassr captain.

Two minutes from time, Firas Al Buraikan set up a grandstand finish with his first goal since joining Al Ahli from Al Fateh, but in the end, Al Nassr held on. They drew level with Al Ahli on points – both teams now three points off the top of the table.

Al Tai 4-3 Al Raed (November 24, Matchweek 14)

Three-one up heading into the second minute of injury-time should almost be a guaranteed win, right? Not so in one of the craziest conclusions an RSL match has seen, which took place at Prince Abdulaziz bin Musa’ed Stadium in late November.

Visitors Al Raed got off to a flying start in Ha’ii, with Julio Tavares netting a 12-minute penalty and Yahya Sunbul poking home to race to a two-goal lead.

Even after Bernard Mensah had pulled one back for Al Tai right on half-time – the game’s second successful penalty – Al Raed restored their advantage through Karim El Berkaoui’s poacher’s finish. Holding onto that lead until stoppage-time, an impressive away victory appeared to be theirs.

However, an extraordinary conclusion was sparked when Al Raed defender Abdullah Al Fahad turned the ball into his own net, before Al Tai drew level with Mensah's second converted spot-kick of the night.

Then, as Al Raed could barely believe what had happened, there was a final sting in the tail: Dutch midfielder Virgil Misidjan’s long-range strike took a deflection that nestled in the net to claim his side a shock win.

Out of nowhere, Al Tai had nabbed the points, their trio of late goals coming in the 92nd, 99th and 100th minute.

Al Wehda 3-3 Al Taawoun (February 29, Matchweek 22)

A knockout match-up lurched one way and then the other throughout proceedings at King Abdulaziz Sports City, with neither side able to land an ultimately decisive blow. But what a contest until then.

Hosts Al Wehda put the wheels in motion 20 minutes in, when veteran goalscorer Odion Ighalo pounced on a loose ball in the Al Taawoun area and turned home. Yet his side were ahead for only eight minutes, after Musa Barrow rounded off a clever counter-attack with an adroit left-footed shot.

Almost immediately, Al Wehda took back the lead, when Faycal Fajr found the net via both posts. But, before the half was out, Al Taawoun pulled level, this time Barrow turning provider, crossing the ball to the back post for Mateus Castro to finish.

Understandably, the game could not quite keep up with the back and forth in the second half, although 16 minutes from time, Al Wehda would nudge out in front for a third time.

Castro was penalised for a handball inside the Al Taawoun area following VAR's intervention, and Ighalo stroked home from the penalty – the evergreen Nigerian’s 12th RSL goal of the season.

Still, there would be another twist in the tale. With four minutes remaining, Castro met Flavio’s cross and supplied the diving head to nick the draw. Given the traded blows, a point apiece felt fitting.

Al Nassr 4-4 Al Hazem (February 29, Matchweek 22)

When second-placed Al Nassr welcomed bottom side Al Hazem, few would have predicted what eventually transpired.

Serving a one-match suspension, Cristiano Ronaldo had to watch on at Al Awwal Park as the Matchweek 22 clash swung one way and then the other – with a couple of last-gasp stings in the tail.

After a goalless first half hour, Talisca opening the scoring on 31 minutes for Luis Castro’s side from the penalty spot. Little did the Brazilian know he would end the fixture with a hat-trick, but not the victory.

Somewhat surprisingly, Al Hazem restored parity eight minutes into the second half, when Ahmed Al Mhemaid reacted quickest to Aymeric Laporte’s inadvertent flick-on to head into the net.

Al Nassr were soon back in front through Talisca, the forward adding the finishing touch to some superb approach play to notch his second of the night. Yet, five minutes later, Toze drew the visitors level once again.

Not for the first – or last – time, the contest turned the other way, with Talisca completing his hat-trick on 71 minutes. His header made it 16 RSL goals for the campaign.

Al Hazem, however, fought back. In the 84th minute, Faiz Selemani showed brilliant ingenuity to fashion his finish, giving the club facing relegation a life-line – only for Al Nassr to seemingly dash those hopes four minutes into stoppage-time.

Mane swept home a penalty and Al Nassr, six points behind RSL leaders Al Hilal having played a game more, thought they’d stolen the win. Yet, incredibly, Al Hazem again found a way back into the match, defender Paulo Ricardo netting in the 99th minute to dent home hopes and boost his club's survival hopes.