The regional Derby between two Middle Eastern powerhouses was a match awaited by many fans across Asia. An attendance of almost 7,000 is most certainly an improvement for Qatar’s teams who have a very small population to boast. Georgios Samaras came on as a half-time substitute while Grafite started up front, pairing up with the more mobile Hassan Al-Haydos.
Khalfan Ibrahim was the star again, no doubt about that, with a superb counter attack from Al-Sadd that ended up with Khalfan slipping through Al-Hilal’s defensive channels like butter. A pinpoint finish was the perfect follow through and the template of the game was set with the aim of keeping 3 points from the Qatari team – who qualified for the competition by the skin of their teeth. Al-Hilal did attack and control the game for the majority of the time but Al-Sadd were still looking for a second goal although that was marred by some very soft finishes from Grafite and Khalfan. This win is huge for Qatar and Al-Sadd as they have beaten one of the most historic clubs in all of Asia to kick start their ACL campaign earlier rather than later. In terms of pure entertainment this is not the match if the week but with regards to the importance of the game, it is.
In Group A, Persepolis of Iran were away in Tashkent to Bunyodkor. The Iranians came into this game on the back of a convincing win against Qatari Champions, Lekhwiya, and were looking for two wins out of two. The hosts, who had never lost at home to an Iranian side, wanted maximum points at home having drew their first game against Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr.
Persepolis started the game on the front foot and aimed to catch Bunyodkor off guard with some early and direct balls behind the defence. Their tactics paid off after 20 minutes as Nouri’s cross from deep found Alishah who headed down towards Taremi but the young striker was fouled for a penalty. Mohammad Nouri stepped up and made it 1-0 to Persepolis and scored his second goal of the competition. Bunyodkor started the second half much better and created some great goalscoring opportunities but a combination of great defending and better goalkeeping by Sosha Makani kept the hosts at bay. Makani who has had a poor season so far, gave his best and produced some fantastic saves to keep his fourth consecutive clean sheet in all competitions and ultimately, help his team earn 3 valuable points in Uzbekistan. Bunyodkor will be disappointed as they now have only 1 point from the first two games and will look to make an stronger and better performance in their next game against Lekhwiya.
Despite the 2 missed penalties, a red card, an own-goal and more, this was not the match of the week. That’s a rather large testament to the audacious popularity of football in the Middle East. However, for Laudrup’s men (Lekhwiya SC), they were more concerned with the result and leaving a point unscathed against Saudi Arabian giants Al-Nassr is something that they can’t be upset about given their form in Qatar Stars League.
For Lekhwiya, their recent form was a bit of a rocky one so they were counting on all of their players to give them the result and especially on such a tough opponent. However, Al-Nassr decided to show what they were famous for and their defense stood stoically apt in the Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Stadium. For home advantage, they were doing pretty well.
One of the finer points of the game was Qatari star forward Sebastian Soria starting on the bench as well as the newly-naturalized Qatari Mohammed Trésor. Wasn’t good enough for the Asian Cup, wasn’t good enough for Lekhwiya.
Meanwhile, action didn’t happen until the 43rd minute when an Al-Nassr attack found a cross to the penalty spot on the rushing Ecuadorian Wila with Khalid Muftah and Musa trailing behind. However, as Musa went for the block, Wila missed the ball and came to Musa’s out-stretched leg as it deflected into the net for the goal.
In the 2nd half, there would be more action as penalties were missed by Weiss for Lekhwiya and Al-Sahlawi for Al-Nassr in the 64th and 82nd minute respectively. It didn’t end nicely for Al-Nassr as Khaled Al-Ghamdi received a 2nd yellow for a tackle-gone-wrong and got his marching orders.
In the end, the spoils were shared but after the week Lekhwiya had, as well as Al-Nassr, this result seemed the fairest given the tempo and speed of the game.
UAE’s Al-Ain and Iran’s Naft Tehran split the honours 1-1 at a largely empty Azadi Stadium in the second round of group B of the AFC Champions League last night.
After a goalless first half, substitute defender Siamak Kooroshi put the hosts in front 5 minutes into the second period with a precise header, converting a Rory Delap-esque throw-in from Vahid Amiri. Al-Ain started the game with a significantly changed line-up as coach Zlatko Dalic kept star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, recovering from an injury, on the bench alongside Miroslav Stoch & Kembo Ekoko. Last season’s Champions League top goalscorer Gyan Asamoah stepped up and put Al-Ain level from the spot following a Leandro Padovani handball 58 minutes into the match. Dalic introduced Abdulrahman & Stoch in search of a late winner but the hosts kept their composure to secure their first ever Champions League point.
An exciting match for the neutrals with a blunder from Pakhtakor to give the Saudi team the lead after some good pressing that needs to be taken note of. We always see players press the goalkeeper and deep defenders only to come out empty handed but moments like this are what strikers wait for. The moment to pounce on the mistake is still a trait accompanied with some of the world’s best strikers today. Abdulrahman Al-Khaibary took the credentials for the goal with a superb blockage and cover shadow to the players behind him done in quick fashion.
Another mistake was there for the taking in Pakhtakor’s equaliser after Igor Sergeev hit the post from a cross only for the Al-Shabab goalkeeper to mispunch it and hand a golden plate to the young Uzbek striker, who tapped the ball in for the equaliser. Captain Makharadze Kakhi did the job in putting his team 2-1 up from a penalty after a trip from the Al-Shabab players in the box. That was not the end though as Naif Hazazi was the hero in creating and scoring the goal with his beautiful chest flick-on. This leaves both teams still vying for a place in the top two after a draw between Al-Ain and Naft Tehran. Things have been stale as of yet, but we hope that someone can pull up a few trees…
Debutants, Lokomotiv Tashkent, welcomed Persian Gulf Pro League champions, Foolad. Both teams were unable to get a win in their first game, with Foolad drawing at home to Al-Sadd while Lokomotiv lost to Al-Hilal.
The game started really well and the hosts took an early lead after 5 minutes through Oleg Zoteev as his shot from outside the box found its way into the back of the Foolad net. The Iranians tried to bounce back from conceding by pushing forward and pressing high up the pitch which helped them create some good chances. At the 31st minute mark, Foolad’s corner was headed away but captain, Mehrdad Jamaati, had a go with a left footed volley which took a huge deflection and wrong footed Ikromov in the Lokomotiv goal and gave Foolad the equaliser. There was not much action after the goal and the second half started really slow as both team tried to dominate possession. Tempo rose in last 15 minutes from both sides and the game became end to end, but neither keepers were in the mood to concede any more and the game ended 1-1.
This is Foolad’s fourth consecutive draw in the AFC Champions League but they need to turn these draws into wins soon. As for Lokomotiv, they need to build on this point if they aim to go further in the competition.
Al-Ahli began the game without Everton Ribeiro for their second consecutive Asian appearance for reasons unknown, possibly to ease him into his first games continentally in Asia. Nevertheless, the start was decent but there was nothing special from both teams that could spark up the game. Tractor’s fans were effervescent as usual; clapping, singing and drumming in sync. The Red Wolves took control of the game with the double pivot of Andranik Teymourian and Mehdi Kiani providing good foil for the fluid and attacking front four, where Farshad Ahmadzadeh proved a vital cog in attack. Al-Ahli on the other hand sprung a surprise in starting the lanky and energetic Habib Al-Fardan in the #10 position, where he used his athleticism to halt Tractor attacks from deep. His technical ability was in doubt as he missed a great chance to equalise the game in the 60th minute, moreover failing to create any chances of note.
Al-Ahli conceded the first goal of the game in the first half after a poor excuse of an attempt at blocking from Walid Abbas. The defence of Al-Ahli were no better either, as they failed to coordinate their movements with Abbas and simply watched Ahmadzadeh slot the ball in. The game’s storyline was as normal with Al-Ahli looking to attack and score while Tractor aimed to defend their lead. A disappointment for Al-Ahli with only 1 point in 2 games while Tractor gain momentum against one of the historic clubs in the Middle East.
Al-Ahli (KSA) go top of their group after 2 games with a valuable win over Nasaf Qarshi, the club that beat Tractor last week. This group looks to be one of the most intriguing as Al-Ahli (UAE) still have the chance to go for a spot while all of Tractor, Nasaf and Al-Ahli (KSA) have wins to their belt.
Al-Ahli (KSA) started the match well and broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute after a bullet of a header from in-form Syrian striker Omar Al-Somah, done so from a perfectly weighted cross. Nasaf then went on to equalise with a peach of a free-kick, very brilliantly executed by the Captain Artur Gevorkyan. That was not enough to earn an away point for the Uzbeks as another header beat the Nasaf defence with ease. Four minutes after Mohammad Saleh Al-Jaman entered the game, he subsequently gained the 3 points for Al-Ahli (KSA) to put them into pole position… for the time being.
Al-Taawon of Saudi Arabia needed a 79th minute winner from Sultan Al-Sawadi to give them the 3. Points against Al-Suwaiq. Meanwhile Al-Seeb and Al-Arabi (where Mirel Radoi and Boualem Khoukhi play) fought it out in an entertaining battle between two teams that were looking to make a mark on the ‘third tier’ competition which happens between Gulf Clubs who finish outside of their respective Champions League place offering. Watch Al-Seeb’s magnificent winner in these highlights: