RIYADH (AFP) — Manchester United youngster Danny Welbeck sent a last-minute penalty over the crossbar as Al Hilal sealed a 3-2 victory over the Premiership champions in Sami al-Jaber's testimonial game here on Monday.
Bader al-Khoraeshe's overhead kick 17 minutes from time was enough to win the game for the Saudi team against a full-strength United outfit.
United, without Ryan Giggs (fever), Michael Carrick and Wes Brown (both groin), have played in front of raucous atmospheres across the globe in recent years, with the passion displayed by supporters in Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok and Cape Town something to behold.
Yet the reception they received from the 65,000 fans inside Riyadh's King Fahd Stadium was the equal of those crazy scenes witnessed in the Far East and in South Africa.
The name of Manchester United has clearly permeated through to this part of the Gulf and the Premiership champions, and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular, were afforded a noisy welcome by the Saudi fans, many of whom had entered the stadium at least three hours before kick-off.
The purpose of the game, however, was to mark the retirement of Al Hilal's legendary Saudi international Sami al-Jaber.
United had been paid one million pounds to provide the opposition for al-Jaber's testimonial game, but Al Hilal proved from the kick-off that they had no intention of making life easy for their illustrious visitors.
Ronaldo, whose every touch brought high-pitched screams from the Saudi supporters, tested goalkeeper Addaiya with a 20 yard strike on five minutes, but it was Al Hilal that opened the scoring five minutes later.
An Anderson foul on Noor 30 yards from goal led to an Al Hilal free-kick and Taieb's shot was diverted into the path of striker Yasser al-Gahtane by United defender Danny Simpson.
Gahtane, who recently had an unsuccessful trial with United's neighbours, Manchester City, made no mistake from 12 yards with a low strike that beat goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and nestled in the far corner.
United, perhaps keen to avoid criticism for travelling 3,000 miles to Riyadh in the middle of a busy fixture period in England, stepped up a gear and Carlos Tevez levelled the scores on 25 minutes when he rounded the keeper after being released by Ronaldo.
Eight minutes later, Sir Alex Ferguson's team were ahead, when Ronaldo outjumped his marker at the near post to head Nani's corner into the net from six yards.
But al-Jaber was not to be overshadowed and he won a penalty, a dubious one to say the least, on 39 minutes following an innocuous challenge by Rio Ferdinand.
Ferguson was spotted by TV cameras laughing at the award, but al-Jaber was able to keep a straight face long enough to beat substitute keeper Tomasz Kuszczak to make it 2-2.
Referee Saad al-Kathery appeared determined to edge Al Hilal towards victory judging by his decision to award another penalty early in the second-half.
Nobody could understand the decision, least of the all the protesting Wayne Rooney, but Al Shalhob shot wide of goal to ensure that justice was done.
But Al Hilal still emerged victorious thanks to Khoraeshe's spectacular winner which beat young goalkeeper Tom Heaton from 12 yards on 73 minutes.
"I never thought we would win the game, but it was a terrific game and the crowd were fantastic. Al Hilal also had some very good players," admitted Ferguson.
"Gahtane looked a terrific footballer and al-Jaber was clearly a decent player in his time."
Ferguson added that his squad would spend the remainder of their time in Saudi Arabia relaxing.
"We will have a relaxing day on Tuesday and hope to get some sun by the pool. One or two of the players want to get a game of golf and I will certainly be doing that."
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