Pre-season friendlies shouldn’t be overstated, but few can blame Al-Nassr’s fans for getting excited after their side clinched an impressive 2-1 win over Zaragoza in Marbella, Spain, thanks to two goals from Sami Al on Monday -Well.
The win doesn’t necessarily mean the title returns to Riyadh’s yellow corner for the first time since 2019, but it does show that the side appear to be on the right track under a new coach and with some key signings.
Certainly, fans of the Spanish second division side were not pleased to be beaten by opponents from Saudi Arabia. Supporters took to social media to express their outrage, saying certain players should never again wear the jersey of the team that won the 1995 European Cup Winners’ Cup. Local media were scathing in their comments, lamenting errors at both ends of the pitch.
Little credit was given to Al-Nassr, but that was to be expected. The fans at home won’t worry too much as this was a fine performance under new coach Rudi Garcia. The former Lyon and Marseille boss is still grappling with life in the kingdom, as well as his task of guiding the team from last season’s third place to first place next season.
The signs are encouraging. The guests made things difficult for the Spanish team, worked hard and appeared relatively united in what was only their second pre-season game (after last Friday’s 2-2 win against Las Palmas). It was encouraging to see Al-Nassr’s aggressive intent when facing European opponents on home soil and given the players at his disposal there is nothing stopping Garcia from building an impressive attacking force in Riyadh.
Al-Najei opened the scoring with seven minutes left in the first half. The midfielder gained possession in the center circle, sent the ball wide and when the Spanish defense couldn’t clear the cross, he was there to deflect the ball in with a low shot.
Then, just after an hour, it was 2-0. Sultan Al-Ghannam’s ball into the box was controlled by Al-Najei, who then turned his defender and punched the goalkeeper at the near post. If one French coach at Garcia had been happy with the move, so would another – Saudi Arabia boss Herve Renard.
Shortly after Garcia made sweeping changes to his team and Zaragoza scored a goal on a warm evening in southern Spain, the Saudi side watched the game for victory.
The result will be remembered once the season is up and running, but the confidence that comes from such a win should stand Al-Nassr in good stead. The signings have done well.
Goalkeeper David Ospina was injured early in the game coming out of his box and the Colombian lay down for a worrying couple of minutes before continuing. Just weeks after arriving from Napoli, Ospina hardly made a mistake and his presence made a difference. As the former Arsenal man spends more time defending, understanding should grow.
Al-Nassr beat a number of European clubs to sign Ghislain Konan from French club Reims. The Ivory Coast left-back looked solid defensively against Zaragoza, who fell 2-1 behind against Al-Shabab the previous day, but also went forward whenever possible. It’s early days but the 26-year-old could be one of the newcomers of the season.
There’s more to come. New signing Gustavo has joined the training camp but the former Bayern Munich and Marseille midfielder has yet to take the field with his team-mates. Talisca, the Brazilian who was one of the stars of last season, arrived in Spain later than the others but has also started training. Too bad Martinez was looking good and after struggling with injuries in the past the Argentine playmaker should have a full pre-season this time. All in all, the foreign contingent looks very strong indeed.
Add that to the solid domestic backbone of the team, with Al-Ghannam, Abdullah Madu, Adbulelah Al-Amri, Ali Lajami and match-winner Al-Najei all hoping the Saudis can start XI at the World Cup, and Al- Nassr should pose a formidable challenge in the coming months.
A pre-season win, even one against a Spanish team in Spain, might not translate to immediate success at home, but it means Al-Nassr fans woke up on Tuesday and are a little bit more excited for the new season will.