Head coach Abdulghani Shahd remained grounded even after his Al Shorta side earned their first-ever AFC Champions League win at the 14th time of asking, defeating Al Ahli Saudi FC 2-1 on Matchday Four of the 2020 AFC Champions League on Thursday.
Al Shorta took the lead inside the opening quarter of an hour through a Saad Natiq header, and Mohamed al-Majhad’s second half leveler for Al Ahli was quickly cancelled out with Mazin Fayyad winning it for Al Shorta in the 65th minute.
The win represents the first time Al Shorta have won a match in the AFC Champions League, having previously competed in the 2004 and 2005 editions, finishing bottom of their group on both occasions.
“I don’t believe in history having an impact. Football is more about science now, and the better you prepare, you can get the results you need,” said Shahd.
“Logically it is very difficult for a team like us to be without a competitive match for so long and come and compete at this level, but this is in our nature as Iraqis blossom under adversity. The players had the desire.
“We are playing a game every three days while Esteghlal had a lot of rest, so it is good that we can go into the last game needing just a draw and we can approach that game differently.”
Fayyad, 23, added: “We faced great difficulties recently as we didn’t play any match in the past six months, but there was great determination from the players and technical staff to win tonight.
“The win was very important for us because it boosts our chances of advancing to the knockout stage.
“We will forget about this victory. We have a final match against Esteghlal and we must prepare very well in order to score another win which will put us in the Round of 16.”
Veteran Hussein Abdulghani started on Thursday, one of six changes Al Ahli head coach Vladan Milojevic made to his line up from the previous game.
The left-back’s appearance set a new record for the oldest player ever to feature in an AFC Champions League match, at 43 years 240 days. Abdulghani made his Al Ahli debut in September 1995.
“Having already qualified to the Round of 16, this game gave us an opportunity to see what those players are all capable of,” said former Red Star Belgrade coach Milojevic.
“When you have a player like Hussein Abdulghani who has played in three FIFA World Cups, younger players at the club will always be learning from him what it means to be a professional.
“Hussein gives his all whether he plays in defence or midfield, whatever the coach tells him, he gives his best.”
A goalless draw for Al Shorta against Esteghlal tomorrow will be enough to send them to the Round of 16 for the first time in their history, while Al Ahli will sit out Matchday Five, but a win on the final matchday will seal the Group A top spot for them.
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