Ivan Rakitic achieved instant hero status among Al-Shabab fans on Friday with a stunning goal to give his new team a 1-0 win at Damac.

The former Barcelona star joined the Riyadh club from Sevilla at the end of January to instantly become one of the stars of the Roshn Saudi League.

And the Croatian did not disappoint on Friday as he oozed class and composure every time he took possession and always looked to make things happen

After 82 minutes the scoreline was 0-0 and substitute Musab Al-Juwayr touched the ball to his right outside the area. It was perfectly set for Rakitic to hit a shot first time that was straight as an arrow and still rising when it hit the back of the Damac net.

It was a goal not just worthy of winning any game, it was worthy of kicking off the final third of the season as the league got going again after the seven-week break for the Asian Cup.

As well as scoring the memorable winner, the 35-year-old touched the ball more and had more passes than any other player. There were also promising signs of link-up play with Yannick Carrasco.

The goal ended a solid debut on a high with the star giving his new club what was only their second win in the last eight games.

The six-time champions have uncharacteristically struggled this season but the win puts them into 10th place and clear of the relegation zone.

Rakitic’s passing and composure ensured that Al-Shabab had more of the possession and control, although the team were helped by the dismissal of Damac’s Sanousi Al-Hawsawi midway through the second half. The defeat leaves Damac in sixth place with 30 points, one behind Al-Ittihad.

“I promised the club’s president that I would score my first goal against Damac and it was great to succeed,” Rakitic said after the game. “I dedicate this victory to the fans.”

He added: “I know that the club had struggles in the first half of the season but we are looking for a new start now.”

It was also a winning start for coach Vitor Pereira as the former Porto boss, who coached Al-Ahli a decade ago, was appointed earlier this month.

He will be hoping that the revival continues against local rivals Al-Nassr next week.

Rakitic added: “We have a full week before we face Al-Nassr and will prepare in the best way possible.”

There was excitement elsewhere as Al-Okhdood defeated Al-Ahli 3-2.

Alex Collado gave the hosts the lead after 25 minutes, though an own goal from Solomon Kvirkvelia evened things up. The advantage was restored by Hamad Al-Mansour after 43 minutes but there was still time before the break for Roberto Firmino to make it 2-2 from the spot.

Leandre Tawamba put Al-Okhdood back in front on the hour and although the Jeddah giants had chances, they could not get back on level terms.

Al-Ahli, who had Roger Ibanez sent off in added time, stay in third, six points behind Al-Nassr.

In the day’s other fixture, Al-Wehda drew 1-1 with Al-Tai.

Al-Nassr are in action on Saturday at home to Al-Fateh while leaders Al-Hilal face Al-Raed on Sunday.


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