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Al-Hilal defensive duo Koulibaly and Al-Bulayhi hailed for frustrating red carded Ronaldo

ABU DHABI: Jorge Jesus praised defensive duo Kalidou Koulibaly and Ali Al-Bulayhi for shutting out Cristiano Ronaldo as Al-Hilal reached the Saudi Super Cup final by defeating Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr 2-1 on Monday night in Abu Dhabi.

Al-Hilal recorded their third victory over Al-Nassr this season with second-half goals from Salem Al-Dawsari and Malcom, rendering Sadio Mane’s injury-time strike a mere consolation.

It was also the third time in succession that Ronaldo has not scored against Al-Hilal — with his night of frustration at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium compounded by a late red card. The Portuguese star was sent off for elbowing Saudi Arabian international Al-Bulayhi after a coming together on the touchline.

His compatriot, Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus, admitted he was not completely surprised Ronaldo lost his cool, referencing previous times the player has been sent off. However, Jesus was keen to highlight the contribution of defenders Al-Bulayhi and Senegalese powerhouse Koulibaly in extinguishing the threat of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

“Cristiano is a big player,” Jesus said. “He is a reference point in world football. It’s true he is used to being a winner and he is not used to losing. Sometimes losses come with the risk of emotion that puts him in these moments where it’s a red card. But he remains a huge player. Even in the match (on Monday) you can see his speed and ability in the air, and you can see he’s such an experienced player.

“We have the two best defenders in Saudi football: Koulibaly and Ali. It’s so difficult to play against them and we can’t take any credit away from them in the way that they stopped the danger that Cristiano can make.”

Al-Hilal’s world record winning run — the 2-1 triumph makes it 33 in succession — continues, despite the absence of attacking stars Neymar, who has been out since October and will not play again this season, and Serbian forward Aleksandar Mitrovic through injury. The striker will be absent until mid-May with a hamstring issue.

Jesus added: “The important thing is that we again ran out with a victory. We knew that Al-Nassr would play with a system more like a five-man defensive line. The first half was balanced, but in the second half we showed strength physically and collectively which gave us the victory and we could have scored three or four more. Congratulations to the players. Again, we have made a victory even with the absence of Neymar and Mitrovic.”

Al-Hilal now face Al-Ittihad in the Saudi Super Cup final on Thursday night at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in the UAE capital after Marcelo Gallardo’s team beat Al-Wehda 2-1 in the competition’s other semifinal. Karim Benzema struck in the first minute at Al-Nayhan Stadium in Abu Dhabi and Abderrazak Hamdallah doubled the lead shortly before half-time. Hussain Al-Eisa dinked home a consolation in injury time minutes after Al-Wehda’s Faycal Fajr struck a penalty high over the bar.

Benzema said: “It was a good game and it’s good to go to the final. We have some days to rest before the final. It’s good for me, it’s good for the club. It’ll be difficult (but) it’s about the trophy.”

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