Al Ahli Saudi FC advanced to the 2020 AFC Champions League quarter-finals after beating Shabab Al Ahli Dubai FC 4-3 on penalties after the 120 minutes of their Round of 16 clash ended in a 1-1 draw at Al Janoub Stadium yesterday.
The two sides had met at the same round in 2017 when Al Ahli emerged 4-2 winners on aggregate to reach the quarter-finals, before exiting at the hands of Persepolis FC.
Al Ahli came racing out of the blocks and within five minutes they thought they had already taken the lead. Marko Marin’s whipped cross from the corner was met by Omar Al Soma’s powerful header which beat goalkeeper Majed Nasser but cannoned off the crossbar. Salman al-Muwashar slotted home the rebound but was flagged offside.
Despite suffering an early blow with the injury of midfielder Majed Hassan, who was replaced by youngster Mohamed Jumaa, Shabab Al Ahli gradually grew into the match, getting their first sight of goal in the 26th minute when Azizjon Ganiev moved in space down the right and drove an effort that was parried away by goalkeeper Mohamed al-Owais.
Ganiev tested the Al Ahli goalkeeper again a minute later with an effort from outside the box, but once more al-Owais was up to the task and made the save.
It was third time lucky for the Uzbek midfielder in the 29th minute as he collected Jumaa’s pass 30 yards from goal and lined a third powerful drive that was deflected off young defender Abdulbaset al-Hindi and left al-Owais helpless to rescue, nestling into the back of the net to hand Shabab Al Ahli the lead.
Coach Vladan Milojevic’s words at the break seemed to have worked magic as Al Ahli returned into the second half with renewed confidence and within eight minutes of the restart, they had won a penalty after Ganiev brought al-Muwashar down inches inside the box. Al-Soma stepped up and fired from the spot into the top corner to equalise for the Saudi side.
Al-Muwashar and al-Soma combined again at the hour mark, with the former dribbling past two players before feeding Al Soma at the edge of the box. The Syrian forward unleashed a powerful left-footed drive that passed inches wide off the post.
Former Al Hilal forward Carlos Eduardo put his side in trouble with a misplaced back pass, gifting Al Ahli a three-vs-two situation on the break. Al-Soma supplied al-Muwashar on the left and the winger set up Marin to shoot from the edge of the area but narrowly missed the target.
Eduardo nearly made amends in the final moments of the second half, finding space inside the box and striking a nodded pass on the volley, but his attempt went agonisingly close, ending up just wide.
With caution taking over the proceedings from both sides, veteran Ahmed Khalil, who had replaced Pedro Conde in the 76th minute, had Shabab Al Ahli’s only major chance of extra time as he rifled a long range free-kick in the 96th minute, but his attempt was tipped over the crossbar by goalkeeper al-Owais.
Goalkeeper Nasser rescued his side at the death, with Motaz Hawsawi setting up Hussain al-Moqahwi inside the box, the latter had the goal at his mercy and struck on the half-volley with his left, but the Shabab Al Ahli captain produced a fine save to send the game into penalties.
Hussein Abdulghani converted from the spot and Khalil hit the crossbar for Shabab Al Ahli for the Saudis to take the lead. Left-backs stepped up next and both Lucas Lima and Youssef Jaber found the net. Abdulrahman Ghareeb scored for Al Ahli and Ganiev kept the margin at one goal with three spot kicks taken.
Defender Hawsawi confidently extended Al Ahli’s lead and substitute Saeed Ahmed kept his composure to keep Shabab Al Ahli’s hopes alive.
With the score at 4-3, it was down to talisman al-Soma to send Al Ahli into the next round, but the Syrian international’s attempted Panenka hit the crossbar, handing the Emiratis a lifeline that Abdullah al-Naqbi failed to take, sending his shot high.
Al Ahli reach the quarter-final for the fifth time in their history and the first since 2017, while Shabab Al Ahli crashed from the Round of 16 for the second time after 2017, which also came at the hands of the same opponent.
Familiar rivals Al Nassr, Al Taawoun set for Round of 16 match-up
Al Nassr and Al Taawoun lock horns in an all-Saudi clash in the fourth 2020 AFC Champions League Round of 16 match in Education City Stadium today.
Al Nassr reached the Round of 16 after topping Group D with 11 points. Moroccan striker Abderazzak Hamdallah contributed five goals to their campaign progress, scoring in each of their first four games before being rested with qualification all but secured.
The Riyadh-based side have reached the knockout stage three times, this being the second time in a row. The first time they reached the knockout stage was in 2011, when they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Iran’s Zobahan in the Round of 16, while in 2019 they went on to reach the quarter-finals before exiting at the hands of Al Sadd.
“We know Al Taawoun very well and they know us too, the winners will be the team that show more intelligence on the pitch, because small decisions can make the difference,” said Al Nassr head coach Rui Vitoria.
“In a one-legged knockout game, you cannot attack all the time or defend all the time. Both teams will have a chance and will want to take their chances to progress to the next round. I don’t think there will be more pressure on us. We just need to stay focused on winning the match.”
On the other hand, Al Taawoun needed a dramatic late goal from Australian striker Mitchell Duke against Al Duhail on Matchday Six to secure qualification from Group C as the second placed side behind Persepolis FC, having had their chances significantly dented in the preceding match when they got beaten 6-0 by Sharjah.
This will be the Buraidah-based side’s first ever knockout stage appearance in the AFC Champions League, in what is only their second participation in the competition after a group stage exit in the 2017 edition.
“We have to be ready for all possibilities; We will prepare the players physically to play 120 minutes and we will also practice penalties,” said Al Taawoun head coach Patrice Carteron, who faces the team he coached for a brief spell in 2017.
“I cannot say I know a lot about Al Nassr, plenty of things have changed since I coached them. But we know they are a huge team and in my opinion they are favourites for the title after Al Hilal’s exit.”
The two sides have never met in continental competition before, but the past 10 domestic matches heavily favour Al Nassr who have won seven; including a 4-1 win just over a month ago in the Saudi Pro League which saw Hamdallah bag a hat-trick, while Al Taawoun have won the other three matches, the most recent of which was in February 2019.
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