An acrobatic overhead kick proved the difference in Riyadh as United’s exhibition match against Al Hilal ended in a 3-2 defeat.
Bader Al-Kharashi scored the spectacular winner on 73 minutes in a game to honour Saudi Arabia’s most famous footballer, Sami Al Jaber.
Jaber, 35, represented Saudi Arabia at four World Cup finals and scored in three. His club career, which began in 1988 and ended only this season, has been spent entirely at Al Hilal, except for a four-game spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2001.
Despite United’s impending heavy fixture load, Sir Alex remained true to his word and sent out a strong team in the impressive King Fahd Stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo was undoubtedly the fans’ favourite, drawing cheers and whistles of admiration with every touch. He dazzled in the early minutes with fancy footwork but failed to test Al Hilal goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Deayea with a long-range strike.
It was the home side who came closest to opening the scoring on seven minutes when Yasser Al Qahtani beat the Reds’ offside trap and teased Edwin van der Sar to the right-hand side of his area. With the Dutchman stranded, Al Qahtani crossed into the middle but the ball was just too high for the man of the moment, Al Jaber, who failed to meet the cross.
The execution may not have been perfect but the move sent out a clear statement of intent: the Saudis were not about to lie down and let United steal all the headlines. That message was rammed home on 19 minutes when Al Hilal took a shock lead, albeit slightly fortuitously when Al Qahtani capitalised on a ricochet off Rio Ferdinand to fire past van der Sar.
The lead didn’t last long, however, and United turned defence into attack with trademark speed on 25 minutes. Seconds after Ferdinand had put his body on the line to block another Al Hilal