RIYADH — Al Hilal strengthened its lead in the Saudi Professional League by securing a 3-1 victory over visiting Al Ittihad on Friday, in the 22nd round of the competition.

This win increases Al Hilal's tally to 62 points at the top of the standings, nine points clear of second-placed Al Nassr, who drew 4-4 with their guests Al Hazm on Thursday in the same round.

On the other hand, Al Ittihad's points froze at 37, placing them fifth in the league.

Al Ittihad took the lead in the 12th minute through N'Golo Kanté before Al Hilal equalized in the 39th minute with a goal from Saleh Al Shehri.

In the 59th minute, Al Hilal scored their second goal through Malcom, and Saud Abdulhamid added the third in the 66th minute.

This victory marks Al Hilal's first of three encounters against Al Ittihad, as they are set to meet again next Tuesday in the first leg of the AFC Champions League quarter-finals, followed by the second leg a week later.

Al Hilal started the match on the offensive from the early minutes, while Al Ittihad countered, despite the absence of their French striker Karim Benzema.

In the 12th minute, Al Ittihad managed to score the first goal through N'Golo Kanté, who headed a cross from the left side by his teammate Zakaria Hawsawi into the net of Al Hilal's goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou.

After the goal, Al Ittihad gained more control over the game. Abderrazak Hamdallah attacked Al Hilal's defense, posing significant threats to Bounou's goal, albeit without success.

On the other side, Malcom, alongside Michel and Salem Al Dawsari, attempted to break through Al Ittihad's defense but were met with solid resistance and the exceptional performance of Al Ittihad's current goalkeeper and former Al Hilal player, Abdullah Al Mayouf.

In the 39th minute, Al Hilal equalized through Saleh Al Shehri. Ruben Neves shot a powerful ball from outside the box, which deflected off Al Ittihad's defense to Al Shehri, who then scored.

Shortly after, the referee awarded a penalty to Al Ittihad for a foul on their defender Ahmed Hegazi by Al Hilal's Kalidou Koulibaly inside the box, only to reverse the decision after VAR.

Al Mayouf made a crucial save against Al Hilal in the second minute of added time in the first half, blocking a ground cross from Salem Al Dawsari on the right through Saud Abdulhamid, thwarting his former teammate's attempt.

Saleh Al Shehri fired a powerful shot from the edge of the box, but Al Mayouf impressively saved it in the fourth minute of added time in the first half.

The remainder of the first half saw no further developments, ending in a 1-1 draw.

At the start of the second half, Al Hilal regained control, attempting to score their second goal against Al Ittihad.

Al Ittihad, on the other hand, tried to absorb Al Hilal's pressure, with their goalkeeper Al Mayouf shining again against his former team.

In the 59th minute, Al Hilal's pressure paid off with their second goal, as Savic moved from the left to send a cross that Malcom headed into the net.

Al Hilal continued to press, while Al Ittihad retreated to defend their goal.

In the 66th minute, Al Hilal scored their third goal through Saud Abdulhamid, who, after a brilliant combination with his teammates Malcom and Neves, dribbled past two defenders and shot the ball past Al Mayouf.

Ahmed Hegazi saved Al Ittihad from conceding a fourth goal in the 76th minute, clearing a shot by Salem Al Dawsari from inside the box off the line.

Al Hilal managed to maintain their lead until the referee blew the final whistle, securing a 3-1 victory over Al Ittihad.

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