x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Ahli's attack of the jitters

Al Ahli's first appearance on the continental stage in four years was a let down.

Ahli's Ismail al Hammadi, second right, is swamped by Pakhtakor players at the Al Rashid Stadium in Dubai on Tuesday night.
Ahli's Ismail al Hammadi, second right, is swamped by Pakhtakor players at the Al Rashid Stadium in Dubai on Tuesday night.

DUBAI // Al Ahli's first appearance on the continental stage in four years was a let down. Playing three days after the stunning win over Al Jazira, they looked battle weary for most part of the game as they went down to a 2-1 defeat against the Uzbek side Pakhtakor. While fatigue could have been a cause of their capitulation, coach Ivan Hasek claimed it was stage fright that proved to be their undoing in Tuesday night's Champions League Group A clash.

"I think we were a bit scared at the start of the game," said the Czech. "Some players were a little nervous. This was the first Champions League game for many of them. You need experience to play at this level. You need to be able to capitalise on the other team's mistakes. "Pakhtakor profited from our mistake and scored from the penalty; we got a penalty too, but were not able to score. That was the key moment of the game."

The Brazilian Clederson Cesar was the biggest culprit of the night for Ahli. His performance in the 70-odd minutes he spent on the field was nondescript, but the bigger mistake was his missed penalty in the 53rd minute, which would have cancelled out Odil Ahmedov's 22nd-minute opener from the spot. Fourteen minutes after the miss, Zaynitdin Tadjiyev doubled the tally for Pakhtakor. Hosny Abd Rabo struck in the 89th minute to raise Ahli hopes, but time beat them.

Cesar hardly looked convincing as he went to take the penalty and his kick was so weak the Pakhtakor keeper Ignatiy Nesterov had to actually wait for the ball as he lay sprawled. Hasek, however, refused to lay any blame on Cesar or his Brazilian compatriot Jader Volnei Spindler "Bare", who was equally sloppy up front. "These two are not the only players," said Hasek. "There were some other players also who were not at their best. They did not play at the level they did in the last game. That is the problem."

Ahli will travel to Iran for their next game against Saba Battery and Hasek added: "We go to Saba for a win. We cannot afford to lose next week." The Pakhtakor coach Viktor Jalilov was happy to be returning home with three points. "It was a very difficult game for us and we are happy to come through in the end," he said. arizvi@thenational.ae