Al Dhafra 1 Al Ahli 1
(AET - Al Ahli win 4-3 on pens)
ABU DHABI // How's this for a comeback tale? Majed Naser, playing his first game of the season for a new club, saved two penalties from Al Dhafra to lead Al Ahli into the quarter-finals of the President's Cup at the Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi tonight.
After a miserable last season marred by disciplinary troubles at Al Wasl, Naser emerged the hero in a penalty shoot-out after both sides played out a frenetic 120-minute stalemate.
Naser eased Ahli's frustrations on an evening in which they lost a lead, had a goal disallowed and wasted enough chances to win the entire tournament.
Ahli were good value for their first half lead.
They pressed deep and had much of the possession. But until Luis Jimenez scored from a free kick, they had been wasteful. Jimenez himself had a presentable chance, found inside the box from a wonderful diagonal ball from Abdulaziz Mohammad; his first touch was superb, but the angle was eventually too acute for the shot and Khalid Saif saved easily.
On the half-hour, they had a reasonable claim for a penalty. Grafite broke free in the area and there seemed contact with Saif - minimal and fleeting - but Grafite's extravagant fall was deemed a dive and he was duly booked for simulation.
Eight minutes later he was genuinely brought down 10 yards outside the area and Jimenez curled a delicious free kick over the wall.
Dhafra had been content until then to sit back patiently and hit on the counter.
The diminutive Bandar Mohammad was the perfect outlet man, making up for his lack of height with ceaseless running on the left.
He should have scored as early as the ninth minute when a mistake from Abdulaziz Mohammad let him through but he hurried his shot and Naser saved smartly. It was a handy first contribution from Naser, playing his first game of the season for his new club after the disciplinary troubles of last season with Wasl.
In the stands, Ahli fans greeted him with a sweet banner: "Red Boys Welcome Back 55", a reference to his shirt number.
Jimenez's goal quietened Dhafra's drive, but soon after the break they hit back with a fine goal. Fawzi Bashir broke down the right and put in a good deep cross.
He found Ali Al Hammadi who expertly took the ball on his chest, made room and drilled his shot into the corner in one fluid motion.
That lit the spark on the game's most frantic period, transforming it into a cut-and-thrust cup tie.
Grafite almost snatched a lead immediately, turning and shooting in the right of the area but high into the side netting. At the other end Bandar, still running, made a chance on his own, turning smartly and bringing out another good save from Naser
Eventually Dhafra tired and Ahli began to squeeze out complete control.
Achille Emana and Grafite should have put the game comfortably beyond Dhafra's reach; the former put a header wide from five yards out, the latter had a goal disallowed for offside before first shooting wastefully high from inside the area and then straight at the goalkeeper all in the final 10 minutes.
More chances were wasted in extra time but Naser made sure it didn't matter.
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