By Sports Reporter/Dubai/Doha
Baghdad Bounedjah underlined his tremendous importance for Al Sadd by
powering the Qatar giants to a 2-1 win over the UAE’s Al Wasl in their
AFC Champions League Group C clash yesterday.
Having only made his return to action last week after more than two and a half months after suffering a fracture in late November, the Algerian struck twice late in the second half to help the 2011 continental champions gain three points at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai.
It marked a significant first victory for a Qatari side in the Emirates since the illegal blockade was imposed on the country last June by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain with support from Egypt.
On Monday, Qatar’s Al Gharafa had fallen to a 3-2 defeat against the UAE’s Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi marking the first visit by a team from Qatar to the UAE.
The Asian Football Confederation had earlier rejected demands by the UAE and Saudi football federations to have their Champions League matches involving Qatari sides played on neutral venues.
Bounedjah, who was introduced as a substitute in the second half by Al Sadd coach Jesualdo Ferreira, lived up to what was expected of him by making an immediate impact on the game.
Al Wasl were returning to the continental competition after a decade and their inexperience was clearly on display, although it was they who scored first, in the 26th minute by Fabio Lima.
Lima advanced into the area from the right flank and scored past Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb with a low shot from a tight angle after hoodwinking two defenders.
It was the versatile Brazilian’s 100th goal for Al Wasl since he joined them in 2014, but the hosts thereafter found the Al Sadd defence too tough to crack.
Bounedjah had a first crack at the Al Wasl goal with an overhead kick in the 70th minute but eventually found the target in the 79th minute when he connected a sublime Xavi pass with a shot on the turn.
In the final minute of the game, Bounedjah was on target again, after he got on the end of a cross by substitute Akram Afif which the Al Wasl defence failed deal with. The striker finished on the half-volley to seal an important victory for the former champions.
“I am very pleased with the victory especially it is our first match of the tournament,” Ferreira said. “ We have a team full of capable players who also don’t lack in confidence,” he added.
He also had a word of praise for Bounedjah.
“He is one of our key players who never fails to deliver. He was unfortunately injured in a QNB Stars League game in November but he has made a tremendous recovery which will be a boost for us as the season progresses,” the Portuguese added.
Al Sadd welcome Persepolis to Doha next week while Al Wasl travel to Qarshi in Uzbekistan to face Nasaf.
Meanwhile in Doha, Al Rayyan captain Rodrigo Tabata had a mixed evening as his side played out an entertaining 2-2 draw against Iran’s Esteghlal at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Group D.
Two-time AFC Player of the Year Server Djeparov found space inside Al Rayyan’s box and sent a pacey cross that was deflected off Tabata and into his own net to hand Esteghlal the lead inside six minutes.
Tabata shortly made amends, sending a pinpoint delivery from a free-kick to find Abderrazzak Hamdallah. The Moroccan directed his header accurately to beat goalkeeper Seyed Hosseini and bring Al Rayyan level in the 18th minute.
The duo combined again 10 minutes later to turn the tie around. This time Hamed-Allah was the creator as he cut inside from the left flank and laid off a pass for Tabata who applied a first-time finish from inside the box, leaving Hosseini helpless.
Al Rayyan were reduced to 10 men for the final 10 minutes after Tabata was dismissed for a late challenge on Pejman Montazeri.
Esteghlal took advantage of their numerical superiority to equalise two minutes from time as Ali Ghorbani headed home Omid Ebrahimi’s cross from the right wing.
Esteghlal face Saudi champions Al Hilal next while Al Rayyan travel to the UAE to play Al Ain.
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