Al Sadd held by Al Ain, Duhail overcome Sharjah as Qatari sides shine in ACL
Qatari sides Al Sadd and Al Duhail continued their quests for continental glory in spectacular fashion yesterday as they stole the limelight from their UAE opponents on a dramatic day in the Asian Champions League (ACL).
While coach Xavi’s Al Sadd twice rallied from a goal down to share the spoils with Al Ain in a six-goal thriller at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Al Duhail, however, edged past Sharjah 2-1 at the brand new Education City Stadium, one of the venues for the 2022 World Cup.
The results ensured a second win in three matches for the recently crowned QSL Champions Al Duhail.
At the same time, Al Sadd had to settle for their second draw in the group stages of the continental tournament as an own goal from center-back Boualem Khoukhi prevented them from gaining full points.
Al Ain started the Group D match against the 2011 champions on a high pressing note, and their efforts were rewarded early with Togolese forward Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba slotting home the opener in the 5th minute off an inch-perfect pass from Wilson Eduardo.
Al Sadd, parading stars like Asian Footballer of the Year Akram Afif, Abdelkarim Hassan, Baghdad Bounedjah and its new addition Santi Cazorla, the Spanish midfielder who signed last month after leaving La Liga outfit Villarreal, tried to hit back. But Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eisa made two excellent saves to deny close-range headers from first Boualem Khoukhi and then Ro-Ro.
The equalizer eventually came in the 35th minute through Afif with the striker firing in from close range following a pass from South Korean Nam Tae-Hee.
The joy of the Qatari giants, however, only lasted for three minutes as Al Ain, who are seeking their first win in the competition, responded swiftly to restore their lead.
Kazakh international Bauyrzhan Islamkhan powered home a superb shot a few yards outside Al Sadd’s area that slipped under the crossbar despite goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb's attempt to stop it.
Al Sadd began the second half strongly, and the squad ensured that most of the play was restricted to the Al Ain’s half of the field as they sought for the much-needed equalizer which eventually came in the 55th minute with Cazorla marking his championship debut with a low drive into the goal.
Five minutes later, Baghdad Bounedjah got his first goal of the current edition and put his side ahead after he tapped in Nam Tae-hee’s low cross, the latter having beaten Bandar Al Ahbabi to assist his teammate.
While it looked like Al Sadd will be heading home with a win, Khoukhi’s own goal in the 67th minute, however, put paid to that. The center-back flicked a header into the goal, but unfortunately at the wrong end, to make it 3-3 as his own goal gave the 2003 champions Al Ain the first point of their ACL 2020 campaign - leaving Al Sadd to rue their missed opportunity at the final blast of the whistle.
Al Sadd remain second with five points in their group -- two behind Al Nassr FC. The Saudi Professional League outfit beat IR Iran's Sepahan SC 2-0, courtesy of a brace from Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah.
Meanwhile, Almoez Ali opened the scoring for Al Duhail in their Group C encounter against Sharjah in the early kick-off with a smart finish after he was played through on goal by Brazilian winger Dudu on a quick break. The Red Knights doubled their advantage before the break with a spectacular free-kick from Iranian winger Ramin Rezaeian.
Brazilian Igor Coronado reduced the deficit for Sharjah early in the second half from the penalty spot, but Duhail held on for the full points to make it six points from three games.
Sharjah went into the game in pursuit of their first win in the AFC Champions League since 2004, having collected one point from their first two games.
Al Duhail, meanwhile, were looking to make amends having lost to Al Taawoun on Matchday Two to freeze at three points.
Igor Coronado had the first chance of the match for Sharjah after eight minutes, but his free-kick from all of 30 yards out sailed over the crossbar.
Al Duhail’s best chance of the opening period came just before the half-hour mark when Ahmed Yasser rose highest to meet a cross from a free-kick. Al Hosani did enough to parry it then followed through with a sweeper-style clearance initially.
Five minutes before the end of the first half, Sharjah were caught napping after a misplaced pass from Mohammed Abdulbaset allowed Luiz Junior to collect the ball deep into his half. He supplied an impeccable pass to Almoez Ali who expertly applied his finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to put Al Duhail in the lead.
Al Duhail picked up from where they left off after the restart. Within six minutes, Abdullah Al Ahrak had won a free-kick just outside the Sharjah penalty box, and new signing Ramin Rezaeian curled it perfectly into the top corner to double the Qataris’ lead.
Five minutes later, Coronado used his trickery to dribble his way past two Al Duhail players before being brought down by Ali inside the box, prompting the referee to point to the spot. The former Palermo playmaker stepped up and coolly converted in his trademark style to half the deficit.
Despite relative dominance for Sharjah and coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari throwing in a trio of attacking players in Khalid Bawazir, Saif Rashid and Salem Saleh, Al Duhail stood tall to see off the match and move up to six points, five points ahead of their opponents.
Al Duhail are now joint-leaders with Al Taawoun, who failed to add to their tally following the loss to Persepolis, while Sharjah’s chances of progress to the next round are now hanging on their ability to collect the three points in the reverse fixture on Friday.
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