Roberto Firmino hits hat-trick on Saudi Pro League debut
Roberto Firmino scored a hat-trick on his Al Ahli debut as the former Liverpool striker got the much-hyped Saudi Pro League season up and running with dash of star power.
A host of big-name player from Europe’s top clubs, including Premier League stalwarts and Champions League winners, have been attracted to the oil-rich Gulf state in a trolley dash worth almost half a billion US dollars leading up to the 2023/24 campaign.
Firmino arrived as a well-paid free transfer from Anfield and the Brazil forward enjoyed a memorable start as he inspired a 3-1 win for Al Ahli over Al Hazem in Jeddah.
The 31-year-old, who was handed the captain’s armband, netted twice in the first nine minutes as he linked up with fellow imports Riyad Mahrez and Allan Saint-Maximin and rounded off the scoring midway through the second half.
There was an assist apiece for former Manchester City winger Mahrez and Newcastle old boy Saint-Maximin, but not all of Al Ahli’s high-profile acquisitions excelled.
Edouard Mendy, the former Chelsea goalkeeper, was enjoying a quiet evening until he side-footed a clearance straight to opposition forward Vina and found himself chipped from 25 yards as he scrambled back into position.
The error did not cost the home side, who were promoted last season and are one of several sides to have built a star-studded squad with the assistance of the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
Firmino opened his account with a powerful near-post header in the sixth minute and doubled his tally soon after when Saint-Maximin sprayed a pass wide for Mahrez, who left the striker a close-range tap-in.
He made the match ball his own in the 72nd minute when his headed effort from Saint-Maximin’s curling cross was saved, hooking his leg round to finish on the rebound.
Firmino has been joined in the league by his former Liverpool team-mates Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Sadio Mane, while Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante also take their place among the A-list cast of recruits.