AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Al-Wahda vs. Al-Sadd
Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Al-Wahda — Al-Sadd
By far one of the most entertaining matches us writers at Ahdaaf have ever seen in world football, let alone Middle Eastern and Asian Football. And how fitting was the fact that it was Middle Eastern legend Sami Al-Jaber’s first match in charge of Al-Wahda. It started off with a medium pace after Al-Wahda took the lead through link-up play between two of their foreigners in Damian Diaz and Sebastian “Tigali” Tagliablue.
Al-Wahda saw out the first half with good organisation as they defended in a 4-4-2 with Diaz aiding Tigali in pressing – who wasn’t efficient defensively. Subsequently, Al-Kamali exited the game at the start of the second half and that was when chaos ensued. Al-Sadd went 2-1 up as Al-Wahda became very vulnerable in the centre and Khalfan Ibrahim continued to dazzle us as he scored his first goal of the game.
Al-Wahda equalised through Amer Omar and it was anyone’s game now. In the 91st minute of the game Ismael Matar was ready to take a free-kick, knowing that there was only a minute and a half left of injury time, and decided to drive a shot powerfully towards the goal – and Al-Shehhi scored through the scramble in the box. The Al Nahyan Stadium went crazy.
(4:50 – Sami Al-Jaber goes crazy after Al-Wahda scored what was believed to be the winner)
Well, regardless of the time ending, not one but two of Al-Wahda’s players got involved in a scuffle with the Al-Sadd players and thus got their marching orders with their second yellow cards (each), while Mohammad Kasola was also sent off. A bigger loss for Al-Wahda as they lost their prime holding midfielder and playmaker. And the sending offs were a blessing for Al-Sadd as Khalfan scored a rocket in the 97th minute to equalise and send the game into extra time. Iran-Iraq memories.
Al-Sadd took control of the game in extra time as expected and none other than Khalfan Ibrahim scored and claimed his hat-trick, and it was all good for the Qataris until a certain Ismael Matar came to save the day. After a couple of dire free-kicks earlier in extra time, Matar finally hit the target and it was all square again. 4-4 and finally, into penalties.
The pre-sudden death shootout ended at 4-4 too with former Arabian Gulf League icon Grafite missing a penalty – coincidentally – against Arabian Gulf League opponents. Al-Wahda could not capitalize on Grafite’s miss, and in the 6th round of penalties Hussain Fadhel missed and Al-Wahda were not going to play in the AFC Champions League this year, the first time no Abu Dhabi clubs appear in the ACL since 2005.
Bunyodkor vs. Al-Jazira
Bunyodkor Stadium, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Bunyodkor qualified for the AFC Champions League for the 8th consecutive time after defeating Mirko Vucinic-less Emirati giants Al-Jazira 2-1 at the Bunyodkor Stadium. Goals from Vokhid Shodiev and Sardor Rashidov were enough to cancel out Ali Mabkhout’s equaliser from a penalty, a goal marred by controversy after a diabolical dive from Jonathan Pitroipa.
Al-Jazira looked toothless without the former Juventus man Mirko Vucinic, who was unable to play the game due to upcoming tests he had to do because he wasn’t feeling well. Their defence on the other hand, looked as per usual. Comical. The inclusion of Bashir Saeed has improved them to some extent but the tactical understanding of the game between these men are not worthy of being Emirati Champions if Al-Ain can boast a similar attacking force with a much better defence.
Sardor Rashidov, a star in the Asian Cup last month broke the Al-Jazira defence with a fast run that dumbfounded 3 men. He was left unmarked in a situation where the Al-Jazira defence were broken, uncoordinated and extremely high up the pitch. A brilliant finish followed, and Bunyodkor completed the quartet of Uzbek clubs in the ACL while Al-Jazira didn’t help the UAE’s bid for glory yet. Ali Mabkhout, Mirko Vucinic, Jonathan Pitroipa, Jucilei, Khamis Ismael, Bashir Saeed, and Manuel Lanzini will all be missed in the ACL this year.
Al-Ahli (KSA) vs. Qadsia SC
King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
A match boasting the biggest attendance of the day at around 34,000 did not disappoint as Qadsia SC put up a brave fight against one of the bigger clubs in Saudi Arabia, ultimately failing to put their mark on the Champions League, and dropped down into the AFC Cup instead. Bader Al-Mutawa scored a ‘worldly’ of a free-kick (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66W8z38enSQ) to put the Kuwaitis in front but the exploits Danijel Subotic and Ivan Nagaev were not enough to keep the game intact.
Omar Al-Somah, a former Qadsia player, scored a penalty in the 85th minute to equalise after Khaled Al-Qahtani hacked him down once he was through on goal. Al-Qahtani was sent off, Al-Somah finished and the game went into extra-time where Mustafa Al-Bassas scored the winner with 5 minutes to go. The Al-Ahli fans erupted.
Naft Tehran vs. Al-Jaish (QAT)
Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran
In Tehran, Naft Tehran hosted Qatari side El-Jaish. Naft who had to play at Azadi Stadium rather than their usual Takhti Sadium in East of Tehran, came into the game with a lot of optimism and hope to qualify for their first ever AFC Champions League finals. Manager, Alireza Mansourian, had called for many football fans in Iran to attend the game and show support for Naft who don’t have much of a fan base.
It was a close game but a combination of experience and youth, produced the winning goal for Naft. Veteran midfielder Iman Mobali, nicknamed ‘Engineer’ because of his great crossing abilities, produced one of his trademark crosses which was headed in by young in-form striker, Amir Arsalan Motahari. El-Jaish threatened the hosts after falling behind and the introduction of Qatari International, Mohammed Muntari, made them more dangerous in the final third. The Qataris had some good chances but another Naft youngster, goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, wasn’t in the mood to concede and kept a clean sheet as Naft produced a historic result to qualify for the group stages.
Yesterday’s results in the AFC Cup were as follows:
Salam Zgharta of Lebanon provided an excellent attacking performance to breeze past Khayr Vahdat 3-0 after goals from Ahmad Khatib, Lucas Galan and Alex Botros. Meanwhile in countries that are marred by war, Palestine’s Hilal Al-Quds lost to Syria’s Al-Jaish on penalties in Bahrain after a stalemate during normal time.
Fanja lost in their hometown (Oman) in an entertaining second half against Ahal of Turkmenistan 3-2, to their utter disappointment. While Al-Hidd (Bahrain) killed Al-Saqr’s dream of being the only Yemeni representative after a shock win in Turkmenistan (Altyn Asyr) the last time out.
(Top Row, L-R): Group A – Group B
(Bottom Row, L-R): Group C – Group D