x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Al Ahli miss huge opportunity to progress in ACL

Dubai side forced to a goalless draw at home to Al Hilal. Ahmed Rizvi reports.

Abdelaziz Haikal, left, avoids getting tackled, but his Al Ahli side were forced to a goalless draw at home to Al Hilal, from Saudi Arabia. Al Ittihad
Abdelaziz Haikal, left, avoids getting tackled, but his Al Ahli side were forced to a goalless draw at home to Al Hilal, from Saudi Arabia. Al Ittihad

DUBAI // Supremely confident in the fighting abilities of his exhausted troops, Al Ahli manager Cosmin Olaroiu had claimed “champions never quit” ahead of Tuesday night’s Asian Champions League clash against Saudi club Al Hilal.

His team will have to prove that claim next Tuesday when they meet Al Sadd in Qatar to earn their place in the knockout stages of the continental championships.

They had a great opportunity to do it at home, but failed to get the three points that would have been their ticket. Instead, a battling Hilal held them to a goalless stalemate. Ahli remain at the top of Group D with seven points, the same as Sepahan, while Hilal are on six and Sadd a point behind, which means the final round of matches will decide the two qualifying teams from the group.

“We wanted to confirm our qualification here, that was the plan, but now we just have to accept the result,” Olaroiu said.

“We have one point from this game and now we have a very important match against Al Sadd in the last round.

“But before that, we have to play one final [the League Cup against Al Jazira in Al Ain on Saturday], so that makes it difficult for us. However, that will not be an excuse and we will try our best.”

Ahli made a blazing start to the game, but fizzled out after the first 15 minutes as Hilal took control and the visiting coach, Sami Al Jaber, was disappointed they were returning home with one point instead of three.

“We were definitely the better side and deserved to win,” the Saudi legend said.

“We created three clear chances, but unfortunately failed to convert them. Before this game, I had said there is a big difference between the local league and the Champions League, and you could see that tonight.”

Missing heavyweights such as their captain Yasser Al Qahtani, Brazilian playmaker Thiago Neves and striker Nasser Al Shamrani, who was sharing the top spot with Asamoah Gyan on the goalscoring charts after the first four rounds of Champions League, Hilal were a bit light on the attacking side.

Still, they gave the Ahli defence a strenuous workout and were unlucky not score in the opening half as Khalid Al Kaabi missed a couple of easy put-aways in the opening 30 minutes and Mohammed Shalhoub then hit the post in the 43rd minute.

Eight minutes into the second half, Grafite also hit the post, but the visitors were controlling the pace of the game at that moment, and Salman Al Faraj could have put them in the lead in the 57th minute if not for a good save by the Ahli goalkeeper Ahmed Mahmoud.

“We played against the UAE champions and came close to winning the match,” Al Jaber said.

“We seem to play better only when we have our backs to the wall, but we need to change this. We need to make sure we play like this in every game.”

arizvi@thenational.ae

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