Al Sharjah crashed to their third successive defeat in the AFC Champions League, humbled 3-1 at home by Saudi Arabian side Al Shabab. Their coach, Toni Oliveira, however, has no time to grieve over the loss. With a skeletal squad, he is more worried about the matches he will be playing ahead in a crowded calendar.
"Our most difficult times are still ahead of us," said the Portuguese, who has made Sharjah's survival in the Pro League his primary focus. "We are playing 11 games in 45 days and have to play all these games with more or less the same players. "Next Sunday we have a difficult Pro League game against Al Wahda. On April 18 we travel to Al Jazira and on the 21st we will be in Saudi Arabia playing Shabab.
"Four days later we meet Al Wasl and the next week [May 2] we have Al Ahli. Just four days after that game, we will be playing Piroozi again. "This is a big problem for us. We don't have too many players to rotate the squad and allow players to recover and recuperate. That is why I am proud of the efforts my players are putting in. They are doing their best." While Oliveira, understandably, sympathises with his players, the fact is most of them played well below their best, especially in defence.
Nawaf Mubarak, Jean Carlos and Anderson played their hearts out in attack, posing a regular threat to the visitors. The two Brazilians combined to put the hosts ahead in the 11th minute, with Anderson heading home Carlos' free-kick. Sharjah's amateurish defence, however, allowed Shabab's frontmen a free rein, with Abdoh Autef (41st minute) and Marcelo Camacho (48th) being virtually unhindered as they scored the second and third goals.
The tide, however, turned after a contentious penalty awarded to Shabab by Chinese referee Tan Hai in the 20th minute. As Nassir al Shamrani sprinted into the box, Sharjah keeper Rashid Hassan left his guard and dived for the ball at the Saudi striker's feet, tripping him in the act. There seemed to be no infringement, but the referee thought otherwise and a grateful al Shamrani converted. Oliveira refused to offer the decision as an excuse and said: "I don't like to talk about referees and I have not seen the replays. With or without the penalty, there was a big difference of quality between the two sides.
"Shabab played like a smooth, well-oiled machine.They showed great organisation and fluidity in their movement. We know our team and we understand there is a big difference between us and the others." The Shabab manager Enzo Trossero, however, said: "We don't know if it was a penalty or not, but the referee thought so and when we scored, it gave us a big chance." firstname.lastname@example.org